Thank you to HQ Digital and NetGalley for providing me with an e-copy of this book.
Outback Australia, 1981
After a terrible childhood, Jane comes to Thornfield as nanny to the adorable Adele, watched over by the handsome and enigmatic Edward. Plain and inexperienced, Jane would never dream of being more than his hired help. But swept up in the dramatic beauty of the Outback, she finds herself dawn to Edward. And, to her surprise, he seems to return her feelings.
But Jane is not the first woman Edward has pledged to make mistress of Thornfield.
As a child, Betty was taken from her English home and sent for adoption in Australia. At first, no-one wanted her, deeming her hair too curly, and her skin too dark. Until the scheming Mr Mason sees a chance to use Betty to cement a relationship with the rich and powerful Rochester dynasty…
When Jane discovers Betty’s fate, will she still want to be the next Mrs Rochester?
Earlier this year I read and reviewed Juliet Bell’s first novel, The Heights, an excellent retelling of Wuthering Heights. I enjoyed seeing how the story worked when moved to the twentieth century, so was pleased to hear Juliet Bell’s next novel would be a reimagining of Jane Eyre, one of my all-time favourites. I was particularly intrigued when the blurb made it clear this was a radical shift from the original, moving the story over a hundred years closer to the present and thousands of miles away from its English setting.
Unsurprisingly, with the large shift in time and place come some significant changes to the original narrative. I think the author has got this right: trying to shoehorn Charlotte Bronte’s plot and characters into such a different setting would have been a little clunky; much better to let the characters develop and act in ways which make sense in their new contexts. I imagine these changes will either delight fans of Jane Eyre or upset them depending on how wedded they are to the details of the nineteenth-century classic. That said, I don’t think there’s any need to have read Jane Eyre first, or enjoyed it, before reading The Other Wife.
The author makes the most of the opportunities offered by their choice of time period and country to pick up on interesting (and still highly relevant) events including the child migrant programme and the struggle for aboriginal and gay rights. This version also redresses one of the aspects of Brontë’s story which often comes in for criticism: Mrs Rochester’s lack of voice. Here the narrative is split between Betty and Jane’s viewpoints, giving us insight into Mrs Rochester’s background and so creating a sympathetic character rather than leaving her pigeonholed as the mad woman in the attic.
Die-hard fans of Mr Rochester may be slightly disappointed as this version of him is thoroughly unlikeable, although this makes the changes to the original ending incredibly satisfying. I’ll leave it there to avoid spoilers, but safe to say you won’t be disappointed.
Overall: another imaginative retelling of a Brontë classic. I look forward to seeing what Juliet Bell takes on next!
Claire Huston / Art and Soul