Monday, November 15, 2010

Book Review: Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler

I heard an interesting interview with the author on a podcast from Penguin Classics last week, so I figured I'd pick up this book since I knew it was sitting on my bookshelf at home. The Brontës aren't my favorite classic British authors, but I like them well enough and I reread Jane Eyre last year for my book club. I thought it would be interesting to find out more about them without having to read a long, dry biography.

But this book wasn't my cup of tea. It was written in a style imitative of the Brontës' style - romantic, poetic, atmospheric - which I don't particularly like. I am more a fan of straightforward, practical, concrete. But it was short, and it was a very fast read, so I stuck with it. I liked the last section, where Charlotte was with her publisher in London, quite well. But the majority of the book was with her family, and it was confusing and nothing much happened at all. We know that there were 6 children pretty early on, but we don't find out what happened to the other 2 girls until halfway through the book, and even then it's not until 3/4 through that we learn the second one's name. I am personally really turned off by purposeful obfuscations, and this book could have used a lot less of that. I think it would have been just as powerful, if not more so, had the author not tried to imitate the writing style of the 1800s. I was intrigued by what I learned, but I didn't learn nearly enough about them, and I'll now be reading Wikipedia to find out the details that were left out.

If you are a huge Brontë fan, I think you'll like this book very much. But if you're more of an Austen fan, it might not be for you. (An aside: I dispute her contention in the interview that you don't need to be either an Austen or a Brontë fan and you can be both. I contend that they are so very, very different in their styles, in how they see the world, in their goals with writing, that if you love one, you naturally will not love the other, but I'd love to hear from you if you are a huge fan and very much love both. How do you reconcile the romantic and the practical? It's probably obvious, but I love Austen and like the Brontës.)

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