Oh, where to start with this review? I knew going into this one that I was going to be unmitigatedly harsh, and it’s likely that my impressions of this novel were colored more so by my personal convictions than by the views of a neutral reviewer. To put it blandly, I’m not very forgiving when someone messes with my Jane Eyre. To me, Jane Eyre is that book that is so ingrained in my consciousness that I consider it my own. While I’m glad that Lindner has a similar affection for my beloved tale and perhaps hoped to draw some new readers to this classic story, her tale had too many flaws to ignore.
Within the first two pages of Jane, I had one resounding thought: “This. Isn’t. Jane.”
Lindner’s Jane is so far removed from the Jane I know and love that she essentially prevented this from being a true adaptation from the outset. Jane has none of her predecessor’s strength and spirit; she’s a quiet, scared, mousish girl who’s had a little bit of bad luck, with nothing approaching the cruelties that my Jane suffered at the hands of Lowood staff and her own family. This Jane’s story could likely be substituted for a hundred others that are far more oppressive and potentially spirit-crushing. Even so, her background is unfortunate enough that one would expect at least a little fire to her thoughts as she remembers the unfairness with which she was treated, for while my Jane was always reserved, she wasn’t a pushover. Yet this Jane calmly leans back to accept her fate. One or two words spoken to siblings in a raised voice doesn’t persuade me of a strength of character.
Nico Rathburn is likewise hardly a reinterpretation of Rochester, for though the idea of substituting fame for class difference was a novel one, from the start Rathburn displays marked differences in temperament from Rochester. His exchanges with Jane are markedly more friendly and less appraising from the outset, and his repartee with both his daughter and his staff do little to paint him as the brooding, changeable figure that Rochester cast. I might have been intrigued and pleased by this update, particularly regarding his obvious affection for his daughter, had Lindner followed the transformation through to the end, yet as the novel progresses Rathburn merely becomes petulant and borderline abusive. Rathburn’s reaction to Jane’s decision to leave evoked none of the misery and regret that Rochester displayed. Rather, Rathburn responds with anger and violence. Jane’s concern that Nico will order the guards not to let her go or attempt to track her through her cell phone or bank records speak to a stalker-like tendency that I doubt Lindner developed as a mere consequence of availability of technology nowadays. Even Nico’s attempts to glam Jane up because she was now his girlfriend alert the readers to how little Nico really knows Jane. I’m aware that there was a similar corollary in the original, yet Rochester backed off once he understood Jane’s admonition that he should not try to change her. Rathburn’s similar faux pas seemed to me to pose evidence of the fact that the time frame in which Rathburn and Jane fall in love just doesn’t work well in the modern setting. Where marriage was often a matter of business a few centuries ago and was in fact the expected outcome of a flirtation, the same can’t be said today, when going from subordinate to girlfriend to fiancee in a matter of days smacks of impetuousness.
My main problem with the story was the fact that Lindner extracts all of the lessons that Jane learns in the original, pulls them out from between the lines, ties a bow on them, and plops them right into the text here. Gone are Jane’s subtle realizations, replaced instead by rhetorical questions that alert the reader to Jane’s precise feelings and concerns. This lack of subtlety, while perhaps a concession for a younger audience, nevertheless felt like a disservice to the original. A lesser complaint I had with the story stemmed from Lindner’s odd decisions regarding names, barely changing some from the original while completely changing others. While I quite liked Copilot, particularly given the circumstances in which Jane and Rathburne meet, the rest felt sloppy to me; I think the story could have benefitted from a complete name rehaul. In fact, had Lindner merely followed her intuition to write a romance between a rock star and a girl far from the limelight, the entire story would have been rather charming, yet attempting to shoehorn it into the Jane Eyre paradigm never worked for me.
It’s a shame, too, because when Lindner incorporated original scenes and elements, I saw the potential for the work to really shine. I thought the alterations to Jane and Rathburn’s initial meeting leant a quirky update to the original scene, and I loved the original interactions between the two while helping Rathburn to pick out an outfit for the photoshoot and helping Jane learn to swim. Unfortunately, from then on the scenes presented a rather hollow imitation of the original. I felt as if I were reading a translation rather than an adaptation, one in which you could sense the brilliance of the original yet knew that there were crucial elements lost in translation. Perhaps Lindner’s best decision regarded the reason she gave for Rathburne’s ex-wife’s condition, which provided a justification for Rathburn’s guilt that amplified that of the original.
I do hope that those who read Jane will seek out the original, and applaud Lindner for taking a chance. I believe my ultimate problem with the novel was that Lindner was at odds with herself throughout the novel. When she stayed true to the original, I wanted ingenuity, and when she changed things up I squinted to recognize the story that I love so much. Still, I see potential in her writing and will look to see if she releases any original stories in the future.