Book review: Sloane Hall by Libby Sternberg (Five Star Publishing, 2010)
A California mansion shrouded in mystery, its residents haunted by secret anguish …
Inspired by Jane Eyre, Sloane Hall brings readers a fresh tale of obsession and redemption, capturing teh glamour and debauchery of 1929 Hollywood during a tumultous time that shatters the lives of …
… hard-drinking Pauline Sloane, silent-screen heroine about to make her first talkie … who hides an ugly past and a tortured soul from the glare of the camera.
… young and angry John Doyle, fledgling cameraman fired from his job and newly employed as Pauline’s chauffeur and mechanic … who fights to overcome a legacy of abuse and murder.
Within the walls of Sloane Hall, the cast includes chef Julia Nons, housekeeper Marta Escobar, and agent Robbie Morgan, all of whom scheme to influence the affair between the star and her chauffeur. John and Pauline clash in a volatile romance, as Pauline’s lies hurtle them toward heartbreak unless each can summon the forgiveness and strength that will ultimately bring them peace.
I was thrilled to win this book in a giveaway at My Reading Room. The book was sent straight from the author herself, and to my surprise and delight, she signed it. Admittedly, this set me up in a good mood, and I was hoping the book would live up to expectations. After all, what to do if it turned out to be a stinker? Luckily, any such fears were soon dispersed.
Sloane Hall turns a familiar novel on its head. Jane is a man (John) and Mr. Rochester is a woman (Miss Sloane). There is no Adèle equivalent to look after, so instead, John is a chauffeur. He is also very different from Jane Eyre. While he too has a Tragic Past, his Lowood is no school for orphans, it’s a correctional facility for young boys, where the equivalent of Helen Burns isn’t so much bullied by a grown-up but in fact physically and sexually abused. Welcome to a world even grittier than that of the Brontës!
Regardless of his anger issues, John does seem to be a fairly likeable man, however, and when he first meets Pauline Sloane, she definitely echoes Mr. Rochester beautifully, even though she’s a lot harder to like than our Byronic darling. Even less charming is Pauline’s manager, Robbie Morgan. If ever there was a character you’d happily trap in the Red Room, it’s him!
If you think you know what’s going to happen, because you know the original, you have another thing coming. The twists and turns of this novel, while inspired by Jane Eyre, are not there to accommodate Brontë’s original and just plonk it down in 1920s Hollywood. Sternberg has created a story in its own right. It echoes Jane Eyre, but crucially, it isn’t Jane Eyre. John isn’t Jane, Pauline isn’t Edward, and I think that’s why it works. To just do a gender reversal wouldn’t have made for half as interesting a story. It’s a fresh take and it’s well-written and well worth a read.
Sloane Hall keeps with the times and it feels as if the author has done great research and really brings in a flavour of the times, and the changeover between silent movies and the “talkies” – something I have no knowledge about whatsoever, except now I feel enlightened on the subject. There are some very distinct differences between Sloane Hall and Jane Eyre, such as the Tragic Past of Pauline Sloane – sorry if I spoil things by saying that there’s no “mad husband in the attic”. What is there instead is suitable for the characters and the plot, and the fact that the novel doesn’t rely on Jane Eyre to tell its story makes it work. This is a very good novel on its own and I’d highly recommend it to anyone. Probably at least 4 out of 5 film reels. Maybe even 4½.