book review: my plain jane

My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, Brodi Ashton
HarperTeen, 464 pp.
Published June 26, 2018

DISCLAIMER: I received a free physical ARC of this title from the publisher for review purposes. This in no way informed or influenced my opinion.
You may think you know the story. After a miserable childhood, penniless orphan Jane Eyre embarks on a new life as a governess at Thornfield Hall. There, she meets one dark, brooding Mr. Rochester. Despite their significant age gap (!) and his uneven temper (!!), they fall in love—and, Reader, she marries him. (!!!)

Or does she?

Prepare for an adventure of Gothic proportions, in which all is not as it seems, a certain gentleman is hiding more than skeletons in his closets, and one orphan Jane Eyre, aspiring author Charlotte Brontë, and supernatural investigator Alexander Blackwood are about to be drawn together on the most epic ghost hunt this side of Wuthering Heights.

I began My Plain Jane without having read the authors' first entry in the Lady Janies series, My Lady Jane. Unfortunately, I doubt I ever will now. While the opening chapters held my attention with plenty of promise for a witty re-tooling of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, by the end all of the charming quirks had worn thin and the plot had failed to entertain or add anything new to the established classic. My Plain Jane does deliver on the formula that earned the authors so many fans with My Lady Jane; that formula just doesn't work for me as a reader.

Most difficult for me was the casual tone combined with a startling degree of obliviousness on the part of several characters. Pop culture references to everything from The Princess Bride to Harry Potter abound with little direction or intrinsic meaning. They read more like generic winks from author to reader, as if to say, "Look, we know what's cool, too!" This combined with an astonishing level of (and I can think of no other word here) ditziness from two of the three point-of-view characters makes for a mind-numbing read. Some comic relief is always fun but in this instance I can't help but wonder if the writers believe YA readers identify with, rather than find harmless entertainment in, such a steep lack of awareness.

I don't generally struggle with meta-fiction, however that textual self-awareness needs to have some depth to it or else the witty edge cannot stay honed. Charlotte Brontë produced a complex story in Jane Eyre, one which is deserving of both modern context and scrutiny. The self-awareness that Hand et al. impose on their ghost-hunting update never does more than scratch the surface of the complicated social and psychological elements at play in the original novel. For example, much is made about the age difference between Jane and Mr. Rochester, yet no mention is made of the stark power differential between a man and woman, an employee and employer, or an aristocrat and an orphan in that period of history.

The plot also takes its time developing any momentum. Much of the novel is spent simply rehashing Jane Eyre, with the insertion of new characters and the ghost hunting society; only after more than two-thirds of the story has passed does any new conflict enter the picture. For readers captivated by the conversational tone and modern references, this may not feel like much of a wait. It can seem interminable, however, when struggling through an uncomfortable style to reach the plot beyond.

Clearly, this was a case of book and reader being pointedly mismatched. Based off of what I've read about My Lady Jane, however, this second entry in the Lady Janies series follows closely in tone, style, and playful historical inaccuracy. For those who enjoyed the first novel, I think that My Plain Jane will be a fun and fitting sequel worth picking up. If you, like me, imagined a snappy and modern take on one of the classics of English literature then this may not rise to the occasion.


No comments:

Post a Comment