Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

Dear reader, she murders the English language…

😦

jane steele 2Young Jane Steele’s favourite book is Jane Eyre and she sees some parallels between her own life and her heroine’s. Not yet an orphan when we first meet her, the suicide of her drug-addled mother soon allows her to achieve that status. Jane has been led to believe that Highgate House should be hers, left to her by her father. But her aunt is living there now and shows no intention of giving it up. And her cousin Edwin is a nasty piece of work who is sexually harassing her. So she kills him. Then she goes off to a school chosen by her wicked and now grieving aunt – a school much like Dickens’ Dotheboys Hall, but with added sexual harassment. While there, she kills a man, but he deserves it, so that’s okay. Then she goes off to London, where she meets with all kinds of men practising different forms of abuse or sexual harassment, so she kills them.

I’m afraid I just don’t get what it is that other people are liking about this book. It’s a simple stream of man-hate – if the genders were reversed I’m pretty sure there would be howls of outrage from some of the same people who are praising it. Every man who appears (up to the 44% mark when I abandoned it with huge relief) is some kind of sexual predator, paedophile or wife-beater, and it is therefore shown as amusing, even admirable, that they should be murdered. It’s supposed to be funny, I think, but the humour wears very thin after the same premise is used several times – man appears, man abuses girl/woman, man is murdered.

But assuming that for some reason our society is okay with denigrating men on a wholesale basis, that still wouldn’t excuse the writing. If pastiching or referencing a great writer, then one has to be able to reproduce or equal that writer’s style – comparisons should and will be drawn, especially if large extracts of the original, skilled writer’s work are used to head up each chapter. The language in this has no feeling of authenticity, no elegance of style, is sprinkled with anachronistic phraseology and occasional Americanisms, and frequently contains words that are incorrect in the context or, indeed, just plain wrong. Would people put up with a professional pianist who kept hitting the wrong notes? Or a surgeon who removed the wrong organs? Then I simply don’t understand why readers are willing to put up with professional authors who use the wrong words.

Playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order...
Playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order…

A couple of examples…

On the subject of her cousin Edwin, Jane muses: “Kin, kin, kin was ever his anthem: as if we were more than related, as if we were kindred.” I remain baffled as to what Faye thinks kindred means.

“Never having studied Latin previous, I congratulated myself when at the end of the hour, I was explaining the lesson to the perplexed circumference, and Miss Werwick forgot herself far enough to frown at this development.” I’m going to ignore “previous” because I think Faye’s using this incorrectly deliberately to try to give some kind of sense of outdated language. But perplexed circumference? I assume she means circle. Perhaps she thinks that because circles have circumferences then the words can be used interchangeably. Like milk and carton, perhaps, or chocolate and box.

Lyndsay Faye
Lyndsay Faye

I did think there was a certain irony to Faye introducing a character (an abusive male, obviously) whose major characteristic was his supposedly humorous incorrect use of words. Dickens can do that, because he is skilled with language. Unfortunately, here, it became difficult to differentiate between the character’s errors and the author’s. It’s odd, because in the only other book of Faye’s that I’ve read, her début in fact, I thought her writing was much better than in this. Perhaps it’s because she’s trying to emulate an outdated style of English English that doesn’t come naturally to her and is just not getting it quite right. I’m sure I wouldn’t get 19th century New York English right either (but then I wouldn’t publish a book written in it if I couldn’t).

However, given that the book has accumulated an astonishing number of 5-star reviews, it appears that the reading world doesn’t share my dislike for either misandry or poor writing. But I fear I can only recommend it to people who hate men and don’t mind having to guess what words the author meant to use…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Headline.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Book 13
Book 13

51 thoughts on “Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

  1. Brilliant! A one star review! And not even that – one solitary, sad little face. Bravo, FF – I love it when you hate a book. And this sounds dreadful. I am all for humourous murderings. I am all for murdering sex offenders and the like. Combining the two elements is risky, as sexual and physical abuse is not funny. And men are not the only perpetrators of these crimes and it is shockingly naive to present that notion. I sort of ‘get’ the misuse of words tactic – although you can only really get away with that if you have an expert grasp of language. The excerpts you provide here don’t make much sense to me – and I’ve read Finnegans Wake!
    This sounds like the sort of thing I might have written as a teenager, thinking myself to be dreadfully witty and ironic. I sort of want to read it, but I know I’ll only end up hating myself 🙂

    • Haha! It’s always a comfort to me when I’m hating a book to know I’ll be bringing joy to others! Yes, the humour got lost somewhere – for me, at least. At the school, children were being abused AND starved to death – seems like overkill! And while I couldn’t exactly feel sorry for the male murder victims, I couldn’t bring myself to admire Jane either, especially since she was annoying me so much! If only at least some of the men had been good guys. *sighs* Yeah, if she’d been misusing the words cleverly I could have gone along with it as a bit of fun, but it seemed to me she wasn’t – she was just getting them wrong in a bid to make the writing sound old-fashioned. It’s sad when the bits you enjoy most are the extracts from the original book at the beginning of the chapters! And she kept doing it at odd moments – like when Jane’s boasting about how clever she is at picking up Latin, leaving me snorting about how I wished she’d master English first! Grrr! Don’t do it!! Oh, go on then, if you must… 😉

      • It sounds to me like an ‘in joke’ that the author and her pals are in on but has been woefully lost on a wider audience. No doubt this could be funny(er) from her perspective, but it just sounds a bit of a mess to me. And man-bashing really annoys me – unless it is part of a wider scenario where EVERYONE is getting a ribbing based on tongue-in-cheek stereotypes. But something makes me want to give it a go – what with this and the new Poirot, I shall be the angriest reader in town! 😀

        • Yes, it might have worked as a short story or even a novella but you can’t just keep repeating basically the same thing every few chapters for a full-length book. Though so many authors do… 😉

          I know – when it’s every man it’s just as unpleasant as when all women are made out to be bimbos or sluts. But it did give me an opportunity to use the word misandry – I’ve been looking for an excuse for ages! 😉

          Haha! You are heroically masochistic! I wonder which will be worst…

          • Well, it’s got a cracking title so it will probably do rather well. Pah. But if you got to use ‘misandry’ then that it at least a bonus.
            I am thinking that the return of feeble Catchpool will annoy me the most, especially when I remind myself that the mighty Captain Hastings should be there instead. Grr – I can feel my blood boiling even now…

            • Yes, I’ve actually created a tag for “misandry” now, so expect to see it appearing regularly… 😉

              My Goodreads buddies seem to be campaigning to force me to read Eligible – the remake of Pride and Prejudice – on the grounds that it’s terrible and they want someone to rip it to shreds. I think I’ve found my niche…

              Talking of Goodreads, First Lady doesn’t appear to be on there yet. If you’ve given out advance copies, there’s nowhere for people to post their reviews…

            • About time someone made a tag for that! Writers should be called out on it.
              I think you may have found your niche! I love all your reviews, but the ‘bad’ ones are always particularly good. They are never cruel or condescending, but handled with humour and fairness. Did I mention they are hilarious? 😉
              Ah, I don’t do Goodreads. I am so rubbish at all this, I just write the stuff then sort of glaze over… (I am seeing the publisher today, I will bring it up, thanks 🙂 )

            • Haha! Thank you! But the downside is that I have to read bad books…

              I reckon getting reviews on Goodreads is probably more effective than either blog reviews (where we basically all just read each other) or Amazon, where people only read reviews if they’re already on the book’s page. But your publisher will know better than me what works. 🙂

            • I wouldn’t go as far as to say that! You are a lady of considerable experience (teehee!) There just seems so much to think about and not enough time for wine… 😉

            • I know – the few authors I ‘know’ through Twitter etc seem to have to spend ridiculous amounts of time on publicity – and I don’t mean the self-published ones. It always leaves me wondering when they have time to write!

  2. Oh, dear, FictionFan! Hmm…..I am quite sure my TBR is safe for the moment! I know just what you mean about the writing style you need to do a good pastiche or homage. It takes skill and, as you say, finesse. And I’m not one for gender-bashing, whichever gender it happens to be. Hmm…..thinking…..nope. My TBR is definitely safe.

    • Yes, I’m always dubious about these spin-offs anyway, but you need to either be good at the style or not try to emulate it all. When I realised the only bits I was enjoying were the extracts from Jane Eyre at the beginning of each chapter, I knew it was all going horribly wrong! And I’m no more enthusiastic about all men being made to appear nasty than I would be if all women were made to be bimbos. But, as I say, loads of people are loving it – so maybe it’s me!

  3. Ah this one kept catching me eye and I would waffle over whether to get it or not. I be glad that ye wrote this review. There are too many ports to plunder to waste time on baubles that end up being made of paste. Yer thoughts are enough to show that I would hate this one. The humor seems to have fallen flat and I am not sure if the author’s malapropisms were meant to be funny or just mistakes. And if all the men are creeps then I will pass. Thanks matey. May ye next book be better.
    x The Captain

    • Yep, I suspected this one could go either way, but hoped she might pull it off. Sadly not – not for me anyway! I started out giving her the benefit of the doubt over using the wrong words, but came to the conclusion that she was genuinely using words without really knowing what they meant or that they were wrong in the context. And I hate books that are purely man-bashing as much as I do ones that are purely woman-bashing! Grrr!

      (Haha! I love that you stay in character in comments, Captain! You should make her walk the gangplank… or at least swab the deck! 😉 )

  4. Hmm. I suppose if there is to be ANY reward for the outrage of reading it dreadful book, it must be the polishing of a deadly Ripio. Now, come clean, you ONLY took this so you could deploy that delectable word, misandry.
    Which, curiously enough my Fire predictive replaced by husbandry. Only I spotted its fiendish attempts and altered back. I think we should all collect together some favourite and arcane words, and set you tasks to use at least 5 of them in every book review. A different 5 of course. Here’s my starter for you. Dicotyledon; Galligaskins; Situationist. Disambiguation. Consanguinity

    • I normally don’t review if I can’t make it past the halfway mark, but this one really deserved to be ripped! I do like misandry though – I’ve made a tag for it now, so hope for many opportunities to use it in future…

      Hahaha! I shall see what I can do – but while galligaskins might be feasible, especially with autumn coming on, I may struggle somewhat with dicotyledon – if only you’d mentioned it before I reviewed Daisy in Chains…

  5. Haven’t run across this one and, thanks to your brilliant review, I won’t bother looking for it! What a disappointment. No wonder you gave up midway through. The wonder, in my mind, is how you stayed with it as long as you did!!

    • So disappointing – I really hoped it would be a fun pastiche. Ha! I kept struggling on in the hopes I’d see what other people are loving about it, but I fear not! Maybe the second half is brilliant… 😉

  6. Excellent review!! Thanks for saving us all from this! I have yet to read a Jane Eyre homage that was worth remembering.

    I share your distaste for the man-hate aspect. Fine. We all get the fact that some men are incredible jerks. But if murder is an example of empowerment, I must be living on the wrong planet.

    • Thank you! I know – I get just as fed up with all men being shown as bad as I do when all women are shown as weak or silly. Sadly, it seems to be happening more and more…

  7. What a superb review and not just because it gets a slating but because you’ve clearly told us exactly the issues that you had with it. I struggle when people use the incorrect words and the one with the ‘perplexed circumference’ was just awful. Thank you for relieving my wishlist of one book 🙂

    • Thank you! 😀 Yes, I get very narked by wrong words or bad grammar, especially when it’s a professionally published one – as opposed to self-published, I mean, where the author might not have had access to a good editor. But here I really wondered if the editor had been asleep – or if Faye had ignored the editor’s advice… Haha! Always happy to help! 😉

  8. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but not all readers use words or punctuation or grammar correctly. In fact, many readers are quite terrible writers–Goodreads has evidence of that!

    • Hahaha! I know, but they’re amateurs! If some friend of mine played the piano at a party and got it wrong, I’d forgive them. But if I paid to go to a concert or buy a CD and the pianist was rubbish, I’d be furious! Same with writers – I don’t expect amateurs to be as good as professionals, but I do expect professional writers to be able to actually write!!!! Picky, that’s me!

    • Hahaha! I don’t know – are you?? 😉 I just couldn’t help thinking that if the book had been called Joe Steele and involved a man humorously bumping off women on the grounds that they were all sluts, temptresses or abusers, the sisterhood would have been out with their placards! But I know I’m in a tiny minority – loads of people are loving it. The joy of books, that we can all react so differently to them… 🙂

  9. I have to admit that I was curious to know why your opinion of this book is so different from most of the ones I’ve seen. I had this out from the library at one point, but sent it back unread. Now I don’t feel so bad about it. 🙂
    I love reading reviews that go against the majority! What would be the fun if we all felt the same way about all the books?

    • D’you know, I was wondering that too! Usually even if I don’t like a book I can kinda see why other people might, but I really don’t get what other people are seeing in this one. Putting the poor writing aside (I am a grammar and words geek, and proud of it, but it does mean I’m highly critical of poor standards of professional writing), I suspect it may be that I worked with boys with behavioural difficulties for years, and came very much to believe that society has done almost a complete turnabout. Where it used to be acceptable to denigrate women at every turn, it now seems to be that we denigrate men constantly and get on our high horse if anyone criticises any woman for anything! I found with the boys that they were just bombarded with negative messages about how horrible all men are – a thing I don’t think most of us actually believe (or presumably people wouldn’t keep marrying them). But, just like mother-in-law jokes, I began to find “useless horrible men” jokes a bit unfunny, especially when there’re no good men in a story to balance things out a bit.

      But yes indeed! It’s the variety of opinions that makes the blogosphere fun!

  10. Oh dear what a shame! I’ve seen the number of five star reviews and put it on my TBR but I’m not entirely sure if I’ll be reading it now. Thanks for making me laugh as always!

    • Thank you! I must say I seem to be in the minority on this one, given the number of glowing reviews I’ve seen, but I still think it’s pretty badly written, I’m afraid.

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