Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

So much more than its “gothic romance” label, thank goodness. Yes, there’s a sheltered teenage girl who falls for her employer, an arrogant, seemingly unattainable “bad boy.” But the deeper love story was not between man and woman; it’s the love Jane showed for herself by never, and I mean never, compromising what she believed right. That’s why Jane Eyre is a “classic” and must-read for all ages.

Orphaned Jane Eyre endures an unhappy childhood, hated by her aunt and cousins and then sent to comfortless Lowood School. But life there improves, and Jane stays on as a teacher, though she still longs for love and friendship. At Mr Rochester’s house, where she goes to work as a governess, she hopes she might have found them – until she learns the terrible secret of the attic. (Source)

Paperback cover dover jane eyreCharlotte Brontë knew exactly what she was doing when she started the story in the midst of Jane’s torment at the hands of her loathsome aunt and cousins. Immediately I was on Jane’s side and admired her for standing up to authority; most children her age (and gender) would be too scared to do or say anything in opposition. Her passion was evident from the get-go and the quality of her character revealed itself naturally through her experiences at Lowood and in her life at Thornfield. Jane’s coming-of-age was believable and relevant. I never felt she did anything contrary to the person she made herself out to be.

While Jane Eyre‘s themes are timeless, its prose and scandals are not. Modern readers may view the narrative as somewhat boring, certain plot points as too convenient, the romance as contrived, and the “twist” not shocking but bland. For me, the heavy role of religion in everyone’s life was the least relatable aspect of the story. So when Jane’s reliance on God’s rules rubbed me the wrong way, I reminded myself of the century, the country and the culture in which this novel was written. When read within that context, the tale features ground-breaking ideals and spotlights female empowerment. Whatever your opinion, 165 years after publication, Jane Eyre still garners fanatical support from those deeply affected by the story – readers moved to tears then smiles then mixtures of tears and smiles.

For the record, I only cried once (Helen), but my emotions ranged from anger (Mrs Reed = EVIL!) to angrier (Mr Brocklehurst) to grief (Helen) to confusion (Mr Rochester) to relief (Jane’s newfound cousins) to confusion (Mr Rochester) to satisfaction (Jane’s CHOICE at the end). There aren’t many books today that offer such emotional depth to readers. I plan to re-read Jane’s tale at least every couple years.

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

In recent months, I’ve re-discovered how much I absolutely LOVE ghost stories, specifically those written in the spirit of the classics. That love might render this “review” somewhat biased.

I could not put down The Woman in Black, literally; I ate lunch whilst devouring page after page. And while it was short and easily read in one sitting – two or three for the more patient reader – it packed quite a psychological punch. The ending hit especially hard. Hill’s prose, setting, characters: superb. And the descriptions were spot on, not too much but more than enough to evoke vivid images.

Whereas the bed had been made up neatly, now the clothes were pulled off anyhow and bundled up or trailing onto the floor. The wardrobe door and the drawers of the small chest were pulled open and all the clothes they contained half-dragged out, and left hanging like entrails from a wounded body (p. 118).

The pace was just right, teasing readers with hints, revealing bit by bit the truth behind the whispers, building steadily to a tense climax, but even then not letting go until the very last page.

Highly recommended to anyone – all ages – who enjoys classic ghost stories.

P.S. It’s hard to believe the soon-to-be released movie, starring Daniel Radcliffe, will be able to capture the true essence of this story, namely the setting and atmosphere. But my hopes remain high.

[Test post of Goodreads’ auto-publish feature. Edited on 2/26/12 to replace image and repetitive links.]