Pages: 364 pages
Published: July 20, 2021
Publisher: Perfectly Proper Press
Genre: Historical fiction, Gothic romance, Paranormal fiction
Yorkshire, 1843. When disgraced former schoolmaster John Eyre arrives at Thornfield Hall to take up a position as tutor to two peculiar young boys, he enters a world unlike any he’s ever known. Darkness abounds, punctuated by odd bumps in the night, strange creatures on the moor, and a sinister silver mist that never seems to dissipate. And at the center of it all, John’s new employer—a widow as alluring as she is mysterious.
Sixteen months earlier, heiress Bertha Mason embarked on the journey of a lifetime. Marriage wasn’t on her itinerary, but on meeting the enigmatic Edward Rochester, she’s powerless to resist his preternatural charm. In letters and journal entries, she records the story of their rapidly disintegrating life together, and of her gradual realization that Mr. Rochester isn’t quite the man he appears to be. In fact, he may not be a man at all.
From a cliff-top fortress on the Black Sea coast to an isolated estate in rural England, John and Bertha contend with secrets, danger, and the eternal struggle between light and darkness. Can they help each other vanquish the demons of the past? Or are some evils simply too powerful to conquer?
I am a prominent critic of classic retellings. Whether it’s a historical ve+rsion or written in a contemporary setting (usually the latter), I can’t help myself comparing to the source and prevent myself from enjoying the book for the way it is. But I am glad to say that the latest historical novel by Mimi Matthews does not aim to tell the same classic story that is known by readers all over but to tell a different story, with some similarities, however, in her compelling way.
In John Eyre, the roles flipped. The protagonist is male, and we find “John” as a disgraced tutor, fleeing from a school to take up a new position at Thornfield Hall, where he meets his new mysterious employer, Mrs Rochester, a.k.a. Miss Bertha Mason. Through letters and journal entries, readers get to see Mason as an independent woman who has ideas of a life apart from marriage until she meets the charming and dashing Mr. Rochester and has a whirlwind romance. Or that is what it looks like on the surface, and we watch as Mason comes to realize that Mr. Rochester is now what he appears to be.
This story is more than just another romance. I found it so innovative about this historical novel that it gives us some things that contemporary audiences may lack in Bronte’s classic. It gives Bertha Mason a voice, more than just the “crazy woman in the attic”. You get the chance actually to know her and what she is feeling. I found this to be striking and resembles another book, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys. With a hint of paranormal elements and the gothic feel you love to see in Victorian-setting fiction, John Eyre gives readers the outlook that they desperately wanted to see in Jane Eyre. Still, this novel doesn’t mean to outshine the classic but to add more praise to the traditional but adding a new spin that is just as memorable and thrilling.
So to the classic-retelling naysayers, I say give this book a chance! This captivating tale is what authors should aim towards when they choose to retell a classic: stick to the material but make it your own. Matthews delights readers with another entertaining novel. Although out of her usual sphere but done in such a beautiful way that none of that matters.
USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews writes both historical nonfiction and award-winning proper Regency and Victorian romances. Her novels have received starred reviews in Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, and her articles have been featured on the Victorian Web, the Journal of Victorian Culture, and in syndication at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats.