In a recent blog-post mention of All Hallows [which was not then published], I observed that it promised to be a “dark and stormy one”. Released just at the beginning of May, it lives up to my prediction.
But a bit about Jane Eyre first. Not merely because of the obvious – that All Hallows is a sequel to that classic – but because Jane Eyre is one of my favourite novels. As in, top five. Easily. So that makes it somewhat sacrosanct. That must be noted, in order that my comments on this new novel are put into perspective.Jane Eyre is one of the greatest love stories of all time. Of all the tropes it embodies, the best, IMHO, is that Jane is the veritable prototype of sassy h who tames the embittered H. Rochester is the epitome of the Byronic hero, a.k.a.: a villain. At the end of Jane Eyre, Rochester is punished and therefore redeemed, making him, er, a suitable suitor for the pious, passionate, and independent Jane. That “cord of communion” connecting their hearts, as Rochester described, is unbroken.
So. We’ve got a good girl. A dark hero. And a great love between them. HEA, right? Never doubted it.
Hm.And so, to my review:
I was honoured to be one of the beta readers on this novel several months ago, thrilled to be pulled into Jane Eyre’s world again. I observed at the time to Ms. Gray that fans of Jane and Rochester's love – hoping to see the ongoing romance between this strong waif and the man whose desire for her reached out across miles of moor – might not like her reinterpretation, but, damn it, we fans were really going to dissect it!All Hallows at Eyre Hall takes my beloved Jane and shakes the gloss from what I imagined her life with Rochester would be. Set twenty-odd years after the original, Rochester is stripped of his Byronic cloak, leaving the villain exposed. Spewing vitriol from his deathbed, he is a toothless tyrant – physical might lost to age and illness, but still able to wound. He actually trash-talks Jane. He is, however, an unreliable narrator, and I refuse to take this monster’s word on anything.
And Jane . . . I recognise her, and yet do not. Living with Rochester has robbed her of something – her piousness, I suppose. I don’t mean that in an “organised religion” sort of way, because Jane – despising both Brocklehurst and St. John Rivers’ approaches to religion – always sought to balance tenets of faith with her human passions, to ensure that one not overrun the other. And here, she has slid somewhat [in my view], losing some of that balance as she pursues passions. Jane is human – but I can’t write about it anymore. I have to think about it more. Maybe cry a little bit.I will not forget this novel anytime soon.
The novel is written in rotating first-person POV in the tradition of the epistolary novel without benefit of the epistles [a monumental task], with many characters giving their view of both past and present. Richard Mason reappears, nefarious extortion plan in tow. John Rochester, Jane and Rochester’s son, is introduced. A new character in the form of Annette Mason, the secret daughter of Rochester and Bertha, appears, too, providing fodder both for Mason’s plans and Jane’s final revelations of her husband.In my opinion, the strongest theme of the original was the search for love, home, and independence, all of which Jane had gained. Now her love for and from Rochester is gone, and her independence and home are under threat from Mason. It is a bittersweet reminder that, for all the fantasy of an HEA, in the real world we’re never done until we’re dead. There is always work to do: on relationships, stability, and, yes, love.
All Hallows is graced with postmodern, postcolonial views that remove the naivety that whitewashed even the darkest moments of Brontë’s original. Ms. Gray does not pull any literary punches in portraying the truth of the world these characters inhabit, filled with bigotry, classism, superstition, and ignorance – and as an educator in Postcolonial English lit, she's got the chops for it. There is a direct nod to Rebecca through Annette’s voice; allusions to Wuthering Heights . . . and dozens of reminders that Ms. Gray has not abandoned her source material in her deconstruction of it. All Hallows has all the gems of the Gothic novel, with secret births, deathbed confessions, morganatic affairs, and hidden letters. The sin-eater scene is delicious.The novel is the first of a planned trilogy, but there is no nail-biting cliff hanger that will annoy. Jane stands on the brink of adventure, and I hope that Ms. Gray will – if not restore my Jane to me – reform her into something new that I can embrace with equal fervour.
Four stars for being awesome; bumped to five for ruining my_________________
All Hallows at Eyre Hall is available at Amazon.