I hate to admit it but I am a bit of a purist when it comes to books. It’s rare that I find a modern take on a classic that is both faithful enough to the original text to avoid annoying me but that still brings something new and interesting enough to the story that makes it worth reading. To my surprise, Sarah Shoemaker’s Mr. Rochester – a re-telling of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre – manages to achieve both. Since the original book was from Jane’s perspective, readers only learned what Mr. Rochester chose to share about his past and motivations. But Shoemaker takes advantage of that fact and provides a rich backstory that builds upon Bronte’s foundation. In the first part of the book, we learn about Rochester’s youth and education and I got both a slight Dickens vibe at times and subtle parallels to Jane’s early years.
Later on, Shoemaker turns her attention to life at Thornfield Hall after Rochester meets Jane Eyre. During this part of the book, the author turns the original dynamic on its head so that now it’s Jane that comes across as inscrutable and out of reach, while Rochester becomes increasingly desperate to force some acknowledgement of her feelings from her. Since the odds are that anyone reading this book will have read the original story and know how it ends, Shoemaker focuses on exploring the motivation behind some of the Bronte’s most baffling plot points – specifically why Rochester behaves the way he does when he is trying to win Jane’s love and why his father and brother trick him into marrying Bertha in the first place even though they knew she was mad. If at times the author works a little too hard to justify some of Rochester’s odder moments, including dressing up as an old gypsy woman or pretending to be in love with Blanche when he really wants to marry Jane, it’s totally forgivable since she, (and Charlotte Bronte), have done such a good job at making Rochester into a character that readers want to love. The extra plot elements she added to explore the history between the Rochester and Mason families was interesting and well done and I have to admit, after all the ups and downs of the story, I broke into a huge grin at the line, “Reader, she married me.”
All in all, I definitely recommend Mr. Rochester for all my fellow Charlotte Bronte fans who are looking to revisit this classic story.