Thursday, February 17, 2011
Jane Slayre by Sherry Browning Irwin
I must confess, I have often done Google searches to look for T-shirts that say “Team Bronte” and “Team Austen.” I’ve been a fan of Charlotte Bronte since I read Jane Eyre in high school. I immediately fell in love with the book and became quite the Bronte enthusiast. On the other hand, Jane Austen and I have never really clicked, and I was very amused when I read that Charlotte was actually one of Jane Austen’s biggest critics back in the day—hence my desire to declare my membership of Team Bronte.
However, this has not turned me away from the relatively recent slew of fantasy rewrites that have made their way to the shelves, such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. I admit I would probably enjoy those more than Jane Austen’s originals. So you can probably imagine my excitement when I came across a copy of Jane Slayre, written by Sherry Browning Irwin, in a London bookstore. The cover, which depicted a famous portrait of Charlotte Bronte, only with a stake in her hand and blood spattered on her arm, immediately drew me in. My beloved Jane Eyre as a vampire slayer? How awesome would that be?
The best I can say about Jane Slayre is that it’s a fun, action-packed read. But I would advise fans of the original not to set their standards too high.
The transformation of Jane Eyre into a fantasy adventure is quite well done in many ways. In the original, Jane is abused by her cruel aunt and cousins and disregarded by the servants. In this one, her relatives are vampires, and one of the servants is later revealed to be a zombie. The corrupt headmaster of Jane’s school, Mr. Brockelhurst, becomes Mr. Bokorhurst—a bokor being a voodoo priest. Jane springs into action when he finds out her classmates are being turned into zombies. This portion of the book is by far the most entertaining, as Jane learns the art of swordplay from her teacher, Miss Temple, and goes on a zombie-beheading spree.
I interpreted this whole zombie angle to be metaphorical. The original book portrays Jane as a spirited, outspoken girl whom the adults in her life try to tame into a subservient drone—a zombie of sorts. Similarly, the school she attends really cracks the whip down on students, so to speak, so that they do what they’re told without question—essentially turning them into “zombies.” Whether this was Irwin’s intention or not, I found this to be an effective use of allegory.
However, once Jane leaves the zombie-ridden school and goes to work for Mr. Rochester, her love interest, the book goes downhill.
Charlotte Bronte took her sweet time developing Jane and Mr. Rochester both individually and as a couple. She gave her readers the time to know them and care enough to root for them to end up together. But Irwin here has other factors in play—the vampires, the zombies, the werewolf in the attic—so the rapport between the characters takes a back seat in favor of the fantasy elements. Irwin just wants to get back to the “good stuff”—vampire-slaying and whatnot—and does so by rushing through the relationship of Jane and Rochester, changing their characters in the process. At this point, the book becomes plot-driven instead of character-driven. Proud, steadfast Jane deteriorates into a weepy, lovesick teenager, while Rochester’s Byronic hero qualities are toned down to make him more like a white knight and less like Bronte’s complex antihero.
Furthermore, being familiar with Jane Eyre, I found that some portions of Jane Slayre were copied, word-for-word, from the original novel. Every now and then, amid demon-slaying ventures and metaphorical dream sequences, a phrase or an entire paragraph directly pulled from Jane Eyre would jump out at me, and it felt out of place. The formal 19th-century dialect of Bronte’s literary voice disrupted the rather whimsical fantasy element. In other words, Irwin and Bronte’s writing styles don’t quite mesh.
Jane Slayre is an overall entertaining read. Despite the botched characterization and inconsistent writing style, this book does deliver its share of fun. I’m sure there are diehard fans of the original out there who would want to stake themselves after reading what they perceive as a bastardization of a classic; but if you can come out of it unscathed, I would recommend this for a light read.