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Posts Tagged ‘The Distant Hours’

The three Bronte sisters wrote only a handful of books between them, but their influence is legion. Add in their peculiar lives in a Yorkshire parsonage, and you have the stuff of novels. Imagine moldering mansions, lonely children, crazy kin, starcrossed lovers, brooding heroes, poverty-stricken heroines, family secrets, a legacy of lies. The Brontes have been there, done that. There even are T-shirts.

But a good Gothic is hard to resist, especially if you first read Jane Eyre as an impressionable teenage girl. Reader, what a a story!

College professor and writer April Lindner is still enthralled. She makes her YA debut, Jane,  with a fond contemporary update of Jane Eyre.

Jane Moore, low on self-esteem and funds, has to drop out of Sarah Lawrence when her parents are killed in a traffic accident, and her selfish older siblings inherit the stuff that’s worth anything. Jane’s smarts, determination and lack of celebrity-awareness get her a job as nanny to brooding bad-boy rock star Nico Rathborn’s 5-year-old daughter. At Thornfield Hall, no less. Want to guess who lives in the attic?

Lindner faithfully follows the original story for the most part. It’s fun to see what details she changes to suit the times — after the wedding-day shocker, for example, Jane runs away and works in a soup kitchen with a handsome seminary student planning a mission to Haiti. That world-weary Mr. Rathborn (“call me Nico”) falls for pragmatic, good-hearted Jane isn’t all that incredible; her prissy moralizing after she’s already slept with him is more so.  Still, most jarring of all, is that well-read Jane Moore has apparently never heard of Jane Eyre, the book or many movie adaptation. Clueless.

Jane Eyre is referenced several times in the historical mystery The Distant Hours, by Australian Kate Morton. Following the successful formula of her previous novels — The House at Riverton, The Forgotten Garden — Morton leisurely layers Gothic details with classic romantic suspense, jumping back and forth among several time periods. The Distant Hours is a rich confection with lots of frosting.

“It started with a letter.” A letter, it turns out, that was lost for 50 years, and whose sudden arrival in the early 1990s stuns Edie Burchill’s mother, Meredith, who doesn’t want to talk about it. But the letter sets Edie on the trail of her mum’s history as a 13-year-old wartime evacuee at Milderhurst Castle, home of Raymond Blythe, author of a popular horror book, The True Tale of The Mud Man, and his three daughters. The elder sisters are twins, Percy and Saffy, and they have spent their youth looking after their increasingly demented father and their younger sister Juniper, who is subject to emotional spells and lapses of memory.

If all this sounds complicated, it is, because everyone, including all of the above, plus a handsome soldier and a former housekeeper, have secrets to spare. As kindly Mrs. Bird, manager of the B&B, says to Edie, ” ‘They can surprise us, can’t they, our parents? The things they got up to before we were born.’ ”  Edies agrees: ‘Almost like they were real people once.’ ”

Open Book: I purchased the e-book version of April Lindner’s Jane (Little, Brown), and received an advance copy of Kate Morton’s The Distant Hours (Atria) as part of a web promotion. While reading them, and rereading Jane Eyre, I consumed vast quantities of tea and quite enjoyed myself.

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