Reader, I Murdered Him by Betsy Cornwell

Reader, I Murdered Him by Betsy Cornwell. Clarion Books, HarperCollins, 2022. 9780358306641

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Historical fiction

What did you like about the book?  Remember Adèle from Jane Eyre? You probably don’t, unless you’re a hardcore fan. She’s the little girl who may or may not be Rochester’s illegitimate French daughter but is definitely Jane’s charge when the young governess first arrives at Thornfield Hall. This retelling/extension of Brontë’s Gothic masterwork tells her story after Jane’s marriage, as the adolescent Adéle finds herself dispatched to a London finishing school. Her upbringing in a Parisian brothel makes her a bit different than her English peers and gives her a cynical perspective on men, one that’s soon reinforced when a young cad assaults her friend Hannah at a party. Adèle throws the lecher off the balcony and attracts the attention of a young and beautiful con artist named Nan, embarking on both a sapphic romance and a vigilante spree as The Villainess. I’m a member of the Brontë fan club and had high hopes as the book opened. Cornwell’s plotting and descriptive writing are accomplished and graceful; the language certainly harkened back to the original text. The Webster School reminded me of a girl power version of Miss Minchin’s boarding school in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess

Anything you didn’t like about it? As the book reached its midpoint, the anachronisms piled up and it lost its connection to the original text. Jane became a mere shadow and an inauthentic one at that. A deus ex machina twist at the end, in which Rochester makes a grotesque revelation and proposition to his ward, made no sense to me. Bertha even makes an appearance; here she’s almost an imaginary nighttime playmate – very bizarre.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Jane Eyre is still assigned at my school in 9th grade, but I don’t think most teens will have read it. This is not a great introduction and a lot of the “sampling” will be confusing to the uninitiated. Readers who like historical fiction and queer romance may find it appealing. Adèle and Nan’s romance is tastefully but definitely consummated, so I’d say high school and up.

Who should buy this book? High school and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? YA fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: January 8, 2023

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