Friday, 7 November 2008
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
What makes a great novel? Is it beautiful, lyrical, prose written with an intrinsic kind of poetry? Is it the pace of the plot which drags you along by the nape of your neck forcing you to turn page after page long into the night? Conventional wisdom will tell you that the perfect novel lies somewhere between these two, and there is no doubt that Jane Eyre superbly achieves each of these requisites. But, to my mind, there is something else that makes a book great: the narrative voice. A great narrative voice which reads like it is whispering solely to you and takes you into its confidence so that the world comes alive and real before you, is the most important thing in literature. It does not matter if a book has very little plot, such as with Mick Jackson’s The Underground Man, or Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, or Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. Nor does it matter if the language is not beautiful, as in Hemingway, or Philip K. Dick. Because if the narrator keeps you close and unfolds their world to you so clearly that you see and feel and smell exactly what they see and feel and smell, then there is an intimacy far closer than you find in everyday life.
And the point of this? Not only is Jane Eyre well written, with mystery and intrigue to burn, but in its eponymous narrator, it has one of the most enthralling voices I have encountered. You don’t just get inside her mind, you actually begin to feel that your mind is as one with hers. She is wilful, stubborn, independent, lovable, intelligent, naïve, craving and so much else besides. She is neither proud, nor a walkover, and takes the rough with the smooth without seeming to differentiate between the two. Throughout the first half of this novel you cross every bone in your body that she will find love and happiness, and when she does your disbelief is matched by hers. When things turn sour you share her resigned certainty that it was always going to end out like that. And when she finds a quite existence for herself, you settle in, feeling relieved that things worked out well for her. But hope cannot be extinguished, not while Mr. Rochester is out there and great love is still possible…
I love Jane Eyre, I was hooked from about page 3. The prose is uncluttered beyond belief; reading Jane Eyre feels like reading the English language as it was invented to be read: simple, fantastically evocative, and with an internal rhythm all of its own. And the twists and turns of (sometimes outrageous) fortune keep you guessing, because Charlotte Bronte is too talented to give any hint as to how it will all end. You get the impression that she would just as easily kill off Jane in a wild snowstorm as bestow her heart’s desire. It is in this uncertainty that the mystery lies.
Jane Eyre is one of those books in which the progression of one word after another is all the pleasure you need. It is soothing and gentle so that I could happily read it every day for the rest of my life. And I am confident that there would always be something remarkable to discover, because this is a remarkable book. Read it now.
10 out of 10