Although much has been made of Re Jane being a Jane Eyre retelling, there is no red room and no mad woman in the attic. There is an orphan who becomes a nanny and there is a "sort of" attic room, but it is actually an office.
The novel is about a young woman of mixed heritage who doesn't feel that she quite fits anywhere. She is stymied and sometimes rebellious because of the restrictions imposed by her Korean heritage, and she is also entirely conscious of American culture, having grown up in Queens. The problem is that she does not feel at home with either culture and is frustrated with the lack of details concerning her Korean mother and American GI father.
In spite of her feeling of being "alien," Re Jane's personality is nothing like Jane Eyre's, and although her aunt and uncle may seem harsh at times, it is more a cultural thing than the callousness of Jane Eyre's aunt. In so many ways, the intention of the novel seems to be turning the original on its head.
I like the way the title offers so many possibilities: Korean names are last names first, so Re Jane is her last, then first name, a kind of reversal; although pronounced 'ee, Re has a similar appearance to Eyre; and re means "in reference to" in Latin; while re- is a prefix that means "again" to indicate repetition, as in revise or "back" to indicate withdrawal as in retreat. It was thinking about the title that made the connection (for me) with the original novel. The title kind of encompasses everything and in a way lets you know that while Park may have had the original in mind, the characters and narrative were going their own way.
It is a very modern novel about a young woman trying to navigate her way in the cross currents of two cultures. It ridicules elements of both cultures at times, but illuminates the difficulties of different social and traditional mores.
I enjoyed it, even if I didn't feel it always met its mark. It is strangely passionless and there is a feeling of distance between the characters that seems more observational than involved.
The main Jane Eyre connection is in the interpretations of the title; I find it hard to connect any of the characters to their Bronte counterparts. Love it or hate it, the original has had an impact on generations of readers. Re Jane, on the other hand, is an interesting and entertaining contemporary novel that can't match those emotions. As a retelling of the Bronte novel, it didn't work for me; as an intriguing look at the difficulties of growing up in that slippery slope of two cultures, it worked well.
ARC from Viking Penguin
Contemporary Fiction. May 5, 2015. 352 pages.