In this collection of short stories, Chevalier asks 21 female authors to take Charlotte Brontë’s famous line “Reader, I married him”, and write whatever it urges them to write. With a slew of superb novelists, including Susan Hill, Helen Dunmore, Emma Donoghue, Lionel Shriver and Linda Grant, this Jane Eyre reprisal has great promise. Yet the result is a bit of a hotchpotch.
Tracy Chevalier was born in Washington, DC but has lived in England all her adult life. She now has dual citizenship. She has a BA in English from Oberlin College, Ohio and an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, England. She lives in London with her English husband and son. Before turning to writing full-time, she was a reference book editor for several years. She has written 7 novels. Her second novel, Girl with a Pearl Earring, won the Barnes and Noble Discover Award, sold 4 million copies worldwide, and was made into a film starring Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson. Tracy Chevalier, 51, is an author best known for her second novel. While working on her eighth novel, Chevalier is also curating an exhibition of quilt works, Things We Do in Bed, at Danson House, Kent, from Tuesday until October 31. She lives with her husband, Jonathan Drori, and their son, Jacob, 15, in north London.
A few stories tell the Jane Eyre tale from another character’s perspective. In “Grace Poole Her Testimony”, Helen Dunmore gives voice to the sour housekeeper, but the story is disappointingly dry. In a funny but underdeveloped conceit, Sally Vickers gives us a Rochester who feels trapped by Jane, finding her ministrations to his blindness deeply irritating: “The idea of marriage to her now revolted me.” As the research continues, we might find real health benefits in our coffee drinking, but we really don’t need more of an excuse other than it tastes delicious and we’re all really, really tired.
Most of the stories move further away from Brontë’s story, touching instead on the novel’s themes, such as female empowerment, love across the class divide or heartbreak. This variety is also the book’s limitation. The rubric is so broad that the stories don’t really hang together.
Until tomorrow: Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.