Reader, I Murdered Him

HarperCollins/Clarion. Nov. 2022. 304p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780358306641.
Gr 9 Up–The challenge of any response to Jane Eyre is how to balance the sensational and the sensible; likewise, the enjoyability of this work depends on individuals’ inclination for realism or vengeance fantasy. At nine, Adèle Varens is plucked from a Parisian brothel and taken to Yorkshire by Mr. Rochester, a man who may or may not be her father. As a teenager, Adèle uneasily witnesses her governess, Jane Eyre, being absorbed by her love for Mr. Rochester. The novel is most gripping—and terrifying—in its beginning and concluding portions, which reconsider Jane Eyre from Adèle’s perspective. However, the plot loses momentum in the middle, when Jane sends Adèle to a London finishing school. Adèle attends tea parties in the day and sneaks out at night as a vigilante murderess and pickpocket. The satisfaction gained from this novel hinges on whether we desire practicality in Adèle’s resistance to entrenched misogyny. Jane Eyre’s protagonist stays level-headed as she faces Gothic manifestations of societal dysfunction: Jane’s difficult solution to her older employer’s bigamous desire is to leave and get a teaching job that gives her independence. By contrast, Adèle and her lover, Nan, rob gentlemen with ease. Her targets are banal, evil products of a misogynist culture that lack the specificity of individuals, unlike Brontë’s gallery of everyday villains, from Aunt Reed to St. John Rivers. Yet, eventually, a palpable threat manifests in the form of Mr. Rochester. Adèle’s ability to act despite her vulnerability is much more compelling than her invincibility as “the Villainess” of London.
VERDICT For those who turn from Jane Eyre with a desire for a queer heroine who can punish Mr. Rochester by way of a penny-dreadful revenge plot.

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