Re Jane by Patricia Park
|Re Jane by Patricia Park|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Luke Marlowe|
|Summary: A modern retelling of the Jane Eyre tale, “Re Jane” is not without its flaws – but is nevertheless an engaging read, managing to be both a respectful adaptation of a classic tale, whilst also a book that about clashing cultures and today’s society, that completely stands on its own merits.|
|Buy? YES||Borrow? YES|
|Pages: 352||Date: May 2015|
|Publisher: Viking Press USA|
|External links: Author's website|
Growing up in Flushing, New York –Jane Re has long been hoping to escape her whole life. A half-Korean, half-American Orphan, Jane struggles to find her place as a spirited and intelligent young woman growing up in a strict and mirthless family, observing the traditional Korean principle of Nunchi (a combination of good manners, obligation and hierarchy). Desperate to escape, Jane is thrilled when she becomes the au pair for a rich couple – two Brooklyn based professors of English, who have adopted a young Chinese girl into their family. Jane soon falls for the man of the family, but their blossoming affair is soon curtailed by a family death, prompting Jane’s return to Korea. As she learns more about herself, her history and her culture, Jane must make huge decisions about her life, her future, and her man…
I’m a huge fan of Jane Eyre – I was drawn to the Brontes as a teen, both due to growing up close to Yorkshire, and the beguiling tones of a certain Kate Bush. Jane Eyre was the second Bronte novel I read after Wuthering Heights, and I was immediately drawn to the more likeable character of Jane Eyre. In fact, I recall that I read the book in one delightful go, sitting at the side of a pool in a villa in Spain. In addition, I’m also a fan of contemporary retellings of classic tales – I think the films Easy A and Clueless are absolutely brilliant, and even rather enjoyed Bridget Jones. I’ve never found an adaptation of Jane Eyre I particularly liked though – Wide Sargasso Sea never sitting particularly well with me.
Re Jane really succeeds well in transplanting the basic ideas and plot of Jane Eyre into the modern day, and indeed, into a different culture entirely. Despite seeming completely unrelated to the culture of English society in the 1800s, rewriting Jane as a half Korean orphan makes a huge amount of sense – with the strict rules and ideals of the Korean culture proving an excellent parallel to the difficult early life of the earlier Jane. In addition, Jane heading back to Korea due to a bereavement means that she has a chance to meet family and to come to terms with her roots in a far more likely way than the accidental encounter with St. John Rivers in the original novel. Whilst the original Jane was a woman truly ahead of her time, this Jane is a modern woman, and one who it is immediately easy to empathise with – she’s a girl who could easily be a neighbour or a friend to anyone who lives in a multi-cultural city. Beth Mazer also stands out as a brilliantly adapted character – recreating the 'madwoman in the attic' into a fantastically clever and outspoken intellectual, is both a move that makes for great comedy, as well as reflecting the sad truth that in many areas female academics are still regarded as inferior when compared to their male counterparts.
I have only a few issues with the book – it is overall a wonderfully clever adaptation, and one that adds in just enough originality to make the book come to a suspenseful and gripping climax no matter whether you have read the original Jane Eyre, or not. I did struggle somewhat with the language used in the early chapters of the book – I have little knowledge of Korean culture, and as such took some time to learn about the various words used, as well as the hierarchy within the family. Once I became used to that though, it became an intriguing and enlightening facet of the book – and definitely a society I’d be extremely interested to read more about. The only other real issue I had was with the 'Mr Rochester' character – Ed Farley. Whilst Mr Rochester made a huge number of bad decisions, and at times was a thoroughly unlikeable character, his decisions made some sense given the social expectations of the day, and some others, such as keeping his mentally disturbed wife in the attic, made some sense given the general state of hospitals and asylums at the time in which the novel was set. Ed Farley, on the other hand, is often controlling and unlikeable for seemingly no reason – and it is hard to see why Jane Re feels such a desire for a man who seems to verge on the unstable and unpleasant for a large part of the novel.
A fantastic adaptation of a classic novel, “Jane Re” is a great read. Funny, moving and enlightening, it is a shame that some adapted parts do not work as well at others. Many thanks to the publishers for the copy.
For further reading, I would recommend The French Dancer's Bastard by Emma Tennant – a continuation of the Jane Eyre story that explores the life of Mr Rochester’s adopted daughter, Adele Varens.
You can read more book reviews or buy Re Jane by Patricia Park at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Re Jane by Patricia Park at Amazon.com.
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