Sunday, March 13, 2011

Book review: Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

You know the type. The books every woman between age 13 and 99 has read at some point in her life. Books like Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre. I read them but I must confess that I probably read all three of those when I was too young to understand them. There was a period between Anne of Green Gables and Native Son when I was wholly unsure about both my tastes in literature and what might be appropriate reading material. (I don't recall teen fiction being in existence in the 90's.) Most of the time it went something like this: Do I own it? Have I heard of it? Then I'm reading it. I remember really struggling with the language of Robin Hood until my dad explained that older stuff is just tougher to understand. So much of what I read back then didn't stick.

I'm going to add another caveat to "these type of books" by saying that they're also the kind of free downloads that Kindle owners use to pad their virtual libraries. I have to be careful because if I get too many books on the list I want to shut down and play Tetris all day, but I allow myself one new book and one freebie at a time. That was how Jane Eyre made it to the list. I decided it was time to revisit this particular classic.

And I don't mind telling you (though this is surely the longest introduction, ever) that the fact that there's a new Jane Eyre movie out soon influenced the decision. I saw the 1996 version with K when I was in high school; it was a first taste of a decade and a half of movie-going with K and she has become my go-to movie-recommender. I have positive associations with Jane Eyre already, but I didn't remember much. It was time to take another look. This was the first book I've ever read across three different modalities (is that the right word?): my Kindle, an actual book, and an audiobook. I just picked up wherever I left off with whatever version was handy. How 2011 of me. Sometimes I'd play Tetris and listen to the audiobook, which I basically consider the best idea I ever had. Ever.

On to the book review. I enjoyed this book in a way that I couldn't have at thirteen.

Jane Eyre uses many archetypes that we see in other stories: the orphan coming of age, the wicked aunt/cousins, a mysterious man with a dark secret. What I liked about it was that none of that seemed forced or stereotypical. Jane is independent in a way that I didn't expect. She is strong willed, blunt, and capable. Some of the choices she makes set her on a path to poverty, but she chooses what she believes is right over her own security. In that respect it's very different from other stories of women during that time and novels that concentrate on finding one's worth through marrying "right."

I won't go into a long description of the plot because this is a book I feel like most people have read. Maybe not. But I also think one of the best things as I read it this time was that I had no memory of the plot whatsoever, from either the movie or the book itself. I was constantly surprised by it, which made me laugh since I had encountered the story before.

The language of the book is pedantic (shout out to the AP English class of 1997) but it didn't interfere with the my comprehension. I loved the version I downloaded because the narrator had a smooth and soothing voice. Reading it was the same. Though it is heavy on description, a few of the scenes like Mr. Rochester's proposal, the exchange after Jane discovers his secret, and the one when they meet again all managed to keep me completely on the edge of my seat. It was a nice balance.

I love to read books that take me to an entirely different place. This book was transportive. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I'm glad I gave it another read before I see the new movie.

My recommendation: A must-read for your list of must-reads.

1 comment:

  1. Ha ha- I like the shout out to AP English class! I too love this book and after reading your review I think I need to read it again.