Reader, I Murdered Him by Betsy Cornwell (288 pages)
Adele Has a Rude Awakening in Reader, I Murdered Him
Adele’s early years were spent in the dance halls of Paris with her beloved Maman. But eventually, Mr. Rochester, her presumed father, comes to take her to his uninviting if not opulent manor. Eventually, when Mr. Rochester leaves to marry Jane Eyre, Adele is sent to a boarding school in London, a different kind of world filled with rich suitors. But when Adele arrives, she realizes that what she’d been pining for is secretly dark and menacing. Adele watches in horror as many of these dreamy-eyed suitors turn into monsters.
After a particularly violent encounter, Adele quickly decides to take matters into her own hands. She knows that most won’t listen to the pleas and confessions of young women, so Adele seeks help from someone on the edge of justice, a young con woman who has a lot to teach Adele. Adele seeks justice for the often-defenseless young women of her peer group as a vigilante using the new skills she learns from her new friend, who she’s finding increasingly attractive.
Two Empowered Women Support Each Other
A more modern complaint of Victorian stories like those by the Bronte sisters is that the women are often victims of their circumstances, especially in the case of Austen novels. Adele, the young girl featured in Jane Eyre, starts in what some might call a “victim” role but then uses the resources around her to help herself and her peers. Adele is sharp and prudent and her observations do a lot of work to make Mr. Rochester significantly less romantic than he’s presented in Charlotte Bronte’s novel. Adele’s relationship with Nan, the con woman she met, is well-developed in a way that doesn’t seem forced but adds a bit of diversity into an often homogenous Victorian era.
The Bottom Line: 4/5 stars
When I first received Reader, I Murdered Him, I didn’t realize it was connected to Jane Eyre. One of the things that I enjoyed about the story was the way it acknowledges how Jane Eyre enriches the story but is not essential in giving all readers a chance to enjoy Adele’s journey. She plays such a small role in that novel that it’s easy to miss or forget her. But in this new story, Adele is well-developed and intriguing, as is her relationship with Nan, the con woman she meets on the streets. The queer relationship that develops between them is earnest and refreshing. Many historical fiction stories set in Victorian Europe are only focused on hetero relationships, and often with slightly older men. Seeing Nan and Adele learn from each other and create their bond was genuinely heartwarming and I was left wanting more in a positive way when I reached the end.
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Rachel Gomes is a 30-something high school English teacher who lives with her high school sweetheart-turned-husband and their son. Rachel is a voracious reader who loves to learn and has her doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction. She’s happiest listening to podcasts and talking to friends about the latest news in nerd culture.
Favourite book: Don’t make me choose between A Song of Ice and Fire and Harry Potter
Favourite brunch spot: The Farmer’s Table