Heat Factor: There’s some icky predatory stuff and some consensual sapphic action
Character Chemistry: Adèle is a charming narrator, but I wouldn’t say she has much chemistry with anyone. She’s a very self-contained character and that doesn’t change.
Plot: Jane Eyre and beyond, Adèle’s perspective
Overall: A mixed bag
For those who don’t believe that negative reviews sell books, I 100% got this book from the library solely on the basis of SuperWendy’s negative review. Do I agree with her assessment that it’s not very subtle about the whole men are terrible / women have seen some shit message? Well, yes. Did I find it a compelling read while I was wolfing it down? Also yes. And do I, in retrospect, feel like it doesn’t quite hold together? Yes again.
Let’s start with the basics. In Jane Eyre, Jane is hired to be a tutor to a young girl, the maybe natural daughter of one Edward Rochester. Adèle may be the impetus for much of the story, but in the original, she is quickly relegated to the side. And at the end, she is shipped off to boarding school so Jane can focus on caring for her darling, maimed husband. So while part of this book is about Adèle and Jane and Rochester, most of the action takes place at Adèle’s boarding school after the marriage, as she makes friends, vows to help them, and then takes matters into her own hands when the menfolk get handsy. She also makes friends with a bunch of queer criminals and, with their help and training, goes full-on vigilante. (Partly because, after that first murder, she has trouble sleeping, so what else is she going to do at night?) Uh, and then she’s brought back home because Rochester is maybe dying, things take a turn for the creeptastic, and the book wraps up in a neat bow.
I thought the best part of the book was Adèle’s fraught relationship with Jane. Adèle loves Jane dearly and is badly hurt when Jane sends Adèle away—now that Jane is going to have a child of her very own. But Jane and Adèle have very different relationships with Rochester. To be clear, he never hurts Adèle (on page or off, though he intends to in the end), but Jane remains deeply in love with him through the end of the story—so much so that this love consumes her life—and Adèle…well, she doesn’t. She sees the women in his life as “pretty dolls lined up on [his] shelf,” objects he collects rather than people he acknowledges, and she wants nothing more than to escape those strictures. And when push comes quite literally to shove, Adèle and Jane’s divergent views on Rochester mean they can’t be close.
However, this great character work is not enough to hang a whole book on. Frankly, the plot is meandering and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. There’s not enough build-up to the climax to make it feel organic to the story being told. Adèle’s school friends don’t have a whole lot of personality—they felt like stand-ins for different kinds of trauma rather than real characters.
Also, I found the epigraphs baffling. Each “part” begins with a quote. But half are from Jane Eyre, and the other half are from 2020 pop songs. This is a tiny detail, but it’s indicative of a larger question of intent. What exactly are we going for here?
Anyway, SuperWendy concluded that this was a YMMV book, and I agree with that assessment. I had fun in the moment, but am going to avoid thinking any harder about it than I already have.
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2 thoughts on “Review: Reader, I Murdered Him by Betsy Cornwell (2022)”
Oh hey – you mean people actually read my reviews and then sometimes read the book for themselves? This never fails to pleasantly surprise me 😂
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Well, I can’t speak for people, but I do! (And I know the feeling!)