Book review: A Breath of Eyre by Eve Marie Mont (Kensington Publishing Corporation, 2012)
Emma Townsend has always believed in stories – the ones she reads voraciously, and the ones she creates. Perhaps it’s because she feels like an outsider at her exclusive prep school, or because her stepmother doesn’t come close to filling the void eft by her mother’s death. And her only romantic prospect – apart from a crush on her English eacher – is Gray Newman, a long-time friend who just adds to Emma’s confusion. But escape soon arrives in an old leather-bound copy of Jane Eyre …
Reading of Jane’s isolation sparks a deep sense of kinship. Then fate takes things a leap further when a lightning storm catapults Emma right into Jane’s body and her nineteenth-century world. As governess at Thornfield, Emma has a sense of belonging she’s never known – and an attraction to the brooding Mr. Rochester. Now, moving between her two realities, and uncovering secrets in both, Emma must decide whether her destiny lies in the pages of Jane’s story, or in the unwritten chapters of her own …
The above makes it sound like a different book to what it is. You may be expecting something akin to The Eyre Affair, where a real-life person gets sucked into fiction. That’s not what happens, although I would have loved if it was.
A Breath of Eyre is a Young Adult novel about 16-year-old Emma, who is a scholarship girl at a school for rich brats. She’s a teenager with teenage problems, like dealing with room mates, classes, boys and all the rest. She has an accident and ends up being Jane Eyre for a bit.
Problem is, we’re set up for the Jane Eyre parts, but it’s the parts about Emma herself, in the real world, that are the most interesting. There, we follow a motherless teenage girl through the trials and tribulations of boarding school life, which is a very good read indeed. I really enjoyed it. The bits about Jane Eyre, on the other hand, were sadly lacklustre.
This review does contain a few spoilers. Most of them are fairly vague, though.
The basic premise of the book is that keen swimmer Emma is given Jane Eyre for her birthday, reads as far as the proposal (conveniently), has an accident landing her in a coma, in which she dreams she’s Jane Eyre. This is all well and good – except the parts where she’s awake and is teenager Emma dealing with teenager issues are vastly more interesting than the bits where she coma dreams herself to be a fictional character.
In a way, I was disappointed. I got the book because of the Jane Eyre connections, but when Emma becomes Jane, I’m not really taken by the story. It’s nothing new, if you like. Emma becomes Jane, tutors Adèle, meets Rochester, and so on. I never got any sense of peril. It was obvious she was making things up while unconscious in the real world, and it got to the point where I was hoping for something to happen, because if she kept to the plot of Jane Eyre, it would have been such a dull book that I wasn’t sure why the author had bothered writing it in the first place. Then it would just be a rip-off of Jane Eyre, and frankly, I’d rather read the original.
Fortunately, though, at that point, Emma woke up from her coma and got to deal with real-life teenager issues, like having a room mate and being nervous about boys and rich girl bullies. These bits I enjoyed tremendously. They suck you in, and you get to care about Emma, her stubborn room mate and the two boys in their lives, even if her accidents are either entirely avoidable or great, big Plot Devices.
She finishes the book, conveniently (not for her) has another accident which lands her straight back into the book, but this time, she’s not just going to be Charlotte Brontë’s pawn. No, she’s taking matters into her own hands. She dumps Rochester (!) and runs away with Bertha (not in a romantic way, she decides to rescue her from that horrid husband of his), then wakes up, has lots of interesting real-life issues again, and then The End.
A Breath of Eyre is the first book in the Unbound trilogy of Young Adult books. The second, using (the to me unknown) The Scarlet Letter as a base, is due in March 2013. The final book looks to be based on The Phantom of the Opera, which sounds intriguing. I just hope they don’t follow the same format of real life – accident – coma dream – real life – accident – another coma dream – real life – the end (or variants thereof), because that would be formulaic and, sadly, incredibly dull. It would also mean Emma is a worse sucker for accidental injuries than Bella bloody Swan.
I admire Emma for how she deals with her crush on her English teacher, while at the same time, pout over a missed opportunity for an interesting, if rather unrealistic, love story. No, I actually much prefer Gray as a potential suitor. He seems like such a nice guy.
The parallels between Emma’s life and Jane Eyre are also interesting. Someone has a Big Secret, but what is it, and how big does it actually turn out to be? Read And Find Out is all I’ll say, although be prepared for it being big … in teenager eyes, where a minor setback is seen as a disaster. So, umm, yeah.
That Bertha is the antithesis of Jane isn’t a new idea, but it seems as if Emma hasn’t read Jane Eyre properly, or she wouldn’t make the old “Rochester is a just horrid old man” mistake. This is probably one of the reasons why I much prefer the bits in Emma’s actual, real life. That way, she can’t mess up Brontë’s characters.
If it wasn’t for the brutalising of Brontë’s characters – although considering they’re all just in Emma’s head, I suppose that could serve as an explanation – it’s a really good book. The reasons for Emma’s mothers death did not come as a surprise, because I thought that was blatantly obvious for quite some time and was surprised Emma hadn’t worked it out herself until she was told outright. But never mind.
The boarding school is a good setting and the characters are enjoyable, and it’s a great story for teenage girls to read. Maybe it would even get them interested in reading Jane Eyre, and if that’s the case, I really can’t fault A Breath of Eyre. I also really like the fact that the author hasn’t shied away from acknowledging that 16-year-olds have sexual feelings. There are no sex scenes or anything like that, don’t worry, but that people of that age actually do have sex isn’t ignored, pushed under the carpet, glossed over or demonised. It’s matter-of-fact, which makes it realistic. And it also adds to why I think the book is well-written.
And that’s why it’s an enjoyable book. I came for Jane Eyre, but stayed for Emma and her friends. If I’ll be back for the second, I don’t know yet. Possibly. I’m not familiar with the book it’s inspired by, but I’ll have to read it if I’m to read the third and final one!
4 out of 5 horses.
A Breath of Eyre is available now in all major bookshops, both as softcover and ebook editions.