Brontë, Literature, Reviews

Unearthly Things by Michelle Gagnon

Unearthly Things is a 2017 young adult novel by American author Michelle Gagnon which re-imagines Charlotte Brontë’s classic tale, Jane Eyre. The story follows Janie Mason, an orphan who is uprooted from her home in Hawaii and sent to live with the mysterious Rochester family in San Francisco. The mystery of why Janie has been sent to live with a family she has never met isn’t the only puzzle she sets out to solve; there are also strange noises coming from the attic that nobody else can hear.

Plot

The novel begins with the aftermath of surfer girl Janie losing her parents in a tragic accident and being sent to live with the Rochesters in San Francisco. Uprooted from everything she knows, Janie tries to settle into a world in which she doesn’t belong, one of wealth, luxury, and greed. There are no answers from the cold and distant head of the family, Richard Rochester, nor his unstable wife Marion, who despises Janie’s presence in their lives. Janie also clashes with their pampered and spoilt daughter Georgie, and the two often go head-to-head in true Mean Girls style. Their housemaid Alma is also cold towards Janie. The only person who enjoys her company is the Rochesters’ youngest son Nicholas, who claims he can communicate with his deceased twin sister Eliza.

Feeling out of touch in a world of socialites, Janie pines for the waters of Hawaii, and the sense of freedom she enjoyed whilst surfing. This passion lures her back to the ocean where she encounters the handsome and likeable Daniel Fairfax. However, Daniel has secrets of his own involving the Rochesters. A rift develops between Janie and Daniel following the arrival of the charming and charismatic John, the oldest of the Rochester children.

unearthly

As the novel progresses, Janie attempts to make the best of a bad situation but becomes increasingly unnerved by the sinister happenings around her. Desperately wanting to free herself from the Rochesters after a threat to her life, Janie finds herself unable to leave following several shocking revelations about her family history.

With Janie wanting answers, her guard is let down, and her temper gets the better of her on a day she will never forget. Deciding finally to cut the ties that bind her to the Rochesters and San Francisco, Janie makes a desperate attempt to leave but is hindered by someone she thought of as an ally, and aided by someone she thought an enemy. But will Janie ever make it back to Hawaii?

Verdict

A mixed bag. The novel has some very clever and original elements but also suffers from cliches and the inability to work out what genre it is trying to place itself in, and who its audience is. It’s not really a re-telling or re-imagining of Jane Eyre, but a young adult novel which borrows names and narrative threads from Brontë’s text. Interesting but not essential reading.

In Loving Memory of Bob the Bichon (2007-2019).

A lover of life, the Brontës, and Haworth who knows that I’m just going to write because I can’t help it.

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