Category Archives: Books That Make You Go Hmm

“Like Jane Eyre But Without the Crazy Wife”

21st February 2013

Twitter is a fascinating beast for many reasons, and I find some really great articles and stories there. Last week, though, I found something that piqued my interest…and led me to bemoan the “retelling” of classics yet again.

Jane Eyre is one of my favorite novels of all time, partly because it’s the first “big book” I read, way back in 4th grade, and though I had no clue how to pronounce rendezvous, I did know an epic story when I read it. From time to time, I read about retellings of Jane Eyre, and I cringe and look away, vowing never to pick up said book. Inevitably, these books will not live up to the original, and honestly, why should I waste my time if that’s the case? Don’t even get me started on the erotic retelling…Jane Eyre Laid Bare. [Just typing this makes me ill.]

I much prefer novels that may be reminiscent of certain novels or themes while having intrigue and beauty all their own. For example, Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca has been compared to Jane Eyre with some pretty obvious and interesting differences.

So what did I see last week? A tweet about a writer who has retold the story of Jane. Read the post if you like, but my reaction was much like the takeaway from diet soda advertisements: “Same great taste! Fewer calories!” Similarly, my take on the author’s post: “Like Jane Eyre but fun! And without the crazy wife!”

You can imagine my consternation. One of the most problematic aspects of Jane Eyre is that poor, crazy wife, Bertha. So much so that Jean Rhys wrote Wide Sargasso Sea in an attempt to give Bertha a bit of screen time herself. Bertha Mason lends the novel its horror and its complexity. She is also the reason so many rail against it and why many cannot understand the allure of Mr. Rochester. Without her, without the obstacle of Jane and Rochester’s union, it’s just another romance novel. Jane isn’t a typical Harlequin heroine, ripped away from the one she loves because of a misunderstanding or a silly fight over his possessiveness. She tears herself away out of a sense of right and wrong, leaving the only place where she has ever felt at home.

And you want to make Jane Eyre fun? Well, ok, I guess, but could you stop the references to a heartwrenching novel that chronicles the actual problems of a young woman with no family and no home? Just call it a novel, and be done with it.

In the meantime, I’m going to go read my novel that’s like Jane Eyre in every way except the English countryside, an orphan, a crazy wife, and a hunky man. Excuse me.

Books That Make You Go Hmm: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

29th March 2012

Because who doesn’t need a little C&C Music Factory on a Thursday??

Sometimes a book isn’t good or bad. Sometimes a book makes you go “hmmm” and think long and hard about what exactly you’ve just read. Though it can be frustrating to not feel completely sure about a book, I think there’s value in that, as in anything else.

This is one strange little book.

Rose is about to turn 9 when her mother bakes her favorite cake: lemon with chocolate frosting. Except the cake doesn’t taste like lemon or chocolate. It tastes like despair.

The taste frightens Rose, who at 9 can sense her mother’s desperation in her hugs and in the aspirin she takes and her frantic search for something she’s good at. One day it’s baking, then home improvement, and finally woodworking. Her father watching, exasperated, but willing to let his wife explore. Her brother Joseph in his own world, increasingly absent.

The Edelstein family is not all that strange up close. They are disconnected, surely. They are uncommunicative, certainly. But as Rose’s peculiar taste lingers, she learns more about each of them than she could ever possibly want, and that knowledge pushes her beyond them and separate from others as she reaches adolescence and grows into an adult.

Even then, she is unable to reconcile what she tastes with the people she knows and loves. Her brother is silent and withdrawn, working on a physics experiment and disappearing at times. Her mother, obsessed with Joseph’s well being, doesn’t see how much her daughter needs her, and Rose’s father tries but ultimately fails at bridging the gaps left in this odd family.

Originally, I thought this book would be very similar to Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, which I think is a bit of poetic genius at times. In that book, however, the main character’s emotions are cooked into the food she creates, thus affecting everyone who tastes it.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is quite opposite, and while I think the premise is really, really fascinating, the book sort of left me. The book I wanted to read was about Rose having this affliction, coming to terms with it in her own way, and either realizing she must do the same with her family or attempt to change her life. The book I read became more and more odd and muddled when Rose’s brother is not just disappearing from his apartment but apparently from the universe as well. Though there are hints to this effect as you read, the scenes where it is realized are creepy and really out there. While Rose’s odd taste certainly requires a temporary suspension of disbelief, Joseph’s skill is scientific. The two are at odds, so while I was cognizant of accepting one, I really couldn’t accept the other.

Bender is an incredibly talented writer, but I have to wonder if I just missed something or if the book really did end that much out in left field.

So this book made me go hmm, but not in an altogether bad way. The more I read, though, the more I wish there were elements of books that were left out or changed to make an odd book a truly great one.

Have you read this one? Or do you have any books that make you go hmmm?

Other reviews:
Fat Books Thin Women
Book Chatter
Katie’s Book Blog
Pop Culture Nerd