I love Jane Eyre. I say I love it, but what I mean is that I capital letter L-O-V-E Jane Eyre.
So it should come as no surprise that I try to read all the retellings. I haven’t decided whether or not this is a good idea. I’ve had varying levels of success. The Flight of Gemma Hardy was a pleasant surprise. Jane by April Lindner was a disaster. Jane Slayre left me whelmed*. Jenna Starborn is Jane Eyre in space, with cyborgs. Re Jane, however, is a modern update worth reading.
Jane Re lives in Flushing, Queens. It’s the summer of 2001 and Jane has recently graduated from college. She’s an orphaned half-Korean, half-American living with her uncle. She toils diligently in his grocery store, but never quite lives up to his expectations and feels like an outsider – it’s a simple, yet lonely existence. She is neither Korean enough (too tall), nor American enough (too Asian). Desperate to get out from under her Uncle’s thumb, she takes a job nannying in Brooklyn. Here she is coddled, loved, and welcomed with open arms. She strengthens her feminist reading habits under the tutelage Dr. Beth Mazer and her hero eating habits with Mr. Ed Farley. Sooner, and perhaps not unexpectedly, she begins to loathe the former and love the latter. As the affair progresses, Jane is suddenly called away, by both her conscience and her family, to her Korean homeland.
This is where the story begins to fall short as a retelling and shine in its own right. Ed is no Edward Fairfax Rochester, nor should he be in the modern world of education and mobility. Here, Farley serves as a tool for Jane to learn who she is, how to live, and where she fits in New York’s bustling landscape (both pre and post 9/11). It’s fascinating to learn about Jane’s Korean heritage, and I particularly loved the idea of tap-tap-hae – emotional and/or physical claustrophobia. It explores themes of race, culture, and identity as easily as it examines themes of love and fidelity. Re Jane does not get weighed down by recreating details of its classic inspiration; instead it offers a fresh perspective and a lovely coming of age story. I strongly recommend it.
Although this novel is filled with (often delicious) food references, I don’t know if you can pair Re Jane with anything other than a hero. Try this Chicken Parmesan Hero with Basil from Simple Bites.
How do you feel about retellings?
*I know you can be overwhelmed, and you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?