Thursday, December 29, 2022

Library Loot Review: Reader, I Murdered Him

I can't remember now where I heard about Reader, I Murdered Him by Betsy Cornwell but with a title like that I knew I had to give it a spin. So I leveraged my handy library card to pick up this teen historical thriller.  

This is part-retelling of Jane Eyre and part Hey What Happened To? told from the point of view of Rochester's ward (and Jane's pupil) Adele Varens. Her mother is a Parisian dance hall girl, which means Adele has lived her young life in the shadows - either backstage or in an out of the way room with the other children while their mothers "entertain" admirers.  Into this world waltzes Edward Rochester, who might be her father.  Before she knows it, Adele is swept back to England to "enjoy" a life of privilege and mother conveniently dies off page. Supposedly.

The first section of this book basically gives the Reader's Digest Condensed Version of Jane Eyre.  Jane shows up, tutors Adele, falls for the mysterious Rochester, oops there's a crazy wife in the attic, Thornfield burns down yada yada yada. This story is mainly about what happens after.  Jane and Rochester marry.  Jane, naturally, LIVES for Rochester and Adele is, well, underfoot.  So they pack her off to boarding school where she begins to make friends.  But Adele has learned much in your young life, especially in the ways of unscrupulous men. The gentlemen callers trying to woo Adele's classmates, well they don't have noble intentions.  And it's up to Adele to protect them.

Let's get this out of the way first - if you are a reader who feels Rochester = Swoony for all that is holy, I am telling you this for your own good, do not read this book.  You will hate it.  Cornwell most definitely falls into the Rochester Is A Major Creep camp and that is very much the vibe he gives off for the entire book.  If you're a Rochester Hater?  You will probably love this because it just reinforces that vibe.  For Jane's part?  Well?  She eventually morphs into the character who turns in on herself, slowly disappearing until she's smaller and smaller all in the name of "love" and a man who "needs" her.  Jane and Rochester basically bookend this story (beginning and ending) and whoa doggie, they are a big part of the ending.

It's well documented that I love 1) revenge thrillers and 2) heroines as vigilantes.  And Adele, for the most part, is a competent vigilante.  Here's the thing, the vigilante stuff is a late entry in the book.  The story itself is around 300 pages, but it's not until Adele meets a young woman from the "wrong side of the tracks" to teach her in matters of self-defense that the vigilante stuff truly heats up. The marketing suggests otherwise, but it's not the main focus of the story for a very long time.  It's truly the life and times of Adele Varens and her awakening to her queerness.  Adele has complicated young feelings for both boys (a pen pal she begins corresponding with to improve her English) and girls (a friend at boarding school, her self-defense teacher).

Did I enjoy this? Well?  Here's the problem. Every male character in this book, and I mean EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. is a sack of human garbage.  And Cornwell writes it with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer sinking into zombie skulls. Look, I get it. Women, we've seen some sh*t. And if you live by the credo that Men Are The Problem, this book will be for you. Because it basically reinforces that. But Wendy?  Look y'all. I get a lot of doom and gloom in the Real World. I'm not that much of a Pollyanna, truly.  But I also have to live my life by the idea that most people have good within them and will make good choices and be good people more often than not. I can't live any other way. To do so, for me, is just depressing. Do people let me down? Good Lord, yes. I do pay attention to the news cycle! But I keep looking for the good and I hold it tight when I find it.

Look, I got this same problem with a lot of m/m romance. The guys are great but every woman in the book is Witch with a Capital B. Cornwell basically does that here but switched the genders.

So where does that leave me?  Well, it's interesting.  It's suitably Victorian. There's a knock-out twist at the end that I probably should have seen coming but didn't. But?  It left me depressed. Which is weird for a story where the heroine gets her happy ending.  This is very much a Your Mileage May Vary book. Proceed accordingly.

Final Grade = C


azteclady said...


Not for me either.

I do think Rochester is a creep, and that Jane really needed to shed a few thousand layers of martyrdom rather than take care of him, but there's a lot of space from there to "all men as toxic waste".

Ah, well.

Wendy said...

AL: Yeah, that. This book had me reflecting on other heroine-driven revenge thrillers I've read/enjoyed and while men were most definitely a problem in those stories, there was also at least one male character on page who was there to help restore the reader's faith in humanity. That's missing from this book entirely, hence the depression at the end ever though Adele gets her happy ending.

willaful said...

I refuse to believe that Jane would ever think Adele should be sent away, or that she would change in those other ways, when you consider everything she went through in order to NOT be forced to change. Fuck that noise.

Wendy said...

Willaful: Two points in Jane's favor - at least she puts Adele in a good school (Rochester initially dumps her off in a house of horrors after the fire) and seems to care about her education - but yeah, pretty much. The portrayal of Jane after she marries Rochester is basically "I have to take care of him, above all else, to the detriment to myself and others." And don't get me started on the ending. The twist is great but it also doesn't earn Jane any points for brains whatsoever.

Carrie said...

Never a Rochester fan and think Jane Eyre is a melodramatic mess, but I'm also not into hating males across the board. I won't be picking this up.

I read queer romance almost exclusively and do, however, disagree with your assessment that all females in m/m fiction are awful, because honestly, that's just not true. In fact, awful female side characters don't happen any more often in m/m than than in f/m books. If that's your experience then you've been reading the wrong m/m authors. :-)

Wendy said...

Carrie: Well certainly not all. It was a wider spread issue for me in the earlier days, when m/m romance really started to gain some traction in the genre. I do think it's better with more recent work, but I read some doozies back in the day. It was like the queer romance spin on the tired Evil Other Woman trope in Old School romances. Which I tolerated more in my younger days but I have next to no patience for anymore. Time marching on and all that...