As a rule, I’m not that interested in white dude stories – shit by and/or about white men. We’ve heard their stories from the beginning of time, and I would like to hear someone else speak for a while, thank you.
So, when I picked up Mr. Rochester, it was with extreme hesitation. In the end, I decided to chance it because, come on. This is Jane Eyre‘s Mr. Rochester we’re talking about. The dopest, flyest, smartest* baddest badass in all of pre-Second Wave literature. Leslie Knope is my spirit animal, but Jane Eyre is my solid rock.
Lucky for me, Sarah Shoemaker knows her shit, and I came to know Rochester in a way that makes my love for Jane Eyre even fuller and richer. Unlike Carsten Jensen, whose book I was reading at the same time I was working through Mr. Rochester, Shoemaker doesn’t seem to make as much of an effort to fit her narrative style into the mold of the mid-19th century. On first blush, the style seems old fashioned enough to suit, but when we get to the later stages of the story where Shoemaker borrows well-known lines of dialogue from Bronte’s book, the difference in style and tone becomes quite clear. I offer this more as an observation than a critique: while I enjoy the dusty, dry old styles, it takes longer and more concentration to read. Whether this was a deliberate choice on Shoemaker’s part, or simply the way she writes, I think it worked just fine.
Mr. Rochester can be broken down into roughly three parts: Education, Jamaica, Jane. The first two are the bulk of the narrative, and are absolutely fascinating. Shoemaker gives us a credible backstory to explain Rochester’s often inscrutable behaviors with, around, and toward Jane. There are a few parallels in childhood that one can imagine them discovering over the course of their long life together, including the early loss of a dear friend. In particular, I found the time in Jamaica enlightening. I always thought the crazy wife in the attic was just a touch too much for me, a little too Gothic Romance Tropes 101, but Shoemaker explains her presence and her effect on Rochester in a way that gets my modern mind over those hurdles.
Once we get to Jane, the narrative goes quickly; Shoemaker assumes we’re all familiar with Jane Eyre and doesn’t waste time re-treading the same ground. I was fine with this, since I’ve read Jane Eyre and have the definitive film version starring Mia Wasikowska and Fassypants basically committed to memory, but readers with less-rich fodder for the imagination may find this part lacking.
Rochester is still a dick in how he pretended to Jane that he was going to marry Miss Ingram, though. I think Shoemaker does her best with this, but she’s a bit constrained by the source material. Chalk it up to never really having an actual courtship, I suppose, but I feel like the Rochester-as-a-good-guy thing falls apart a bit in this area. We get our happy ending, though, and Shoemaker even gives us a little extra than Bronte did with a sweet little epilogue. Altogether, a surprisingly lovely book.
Rating: Four stars
*Yes, that was a Schmidt reference. #sorrynotsorry