Book Review: Unequal Affections by Lara S. Ormiston

Unequal Affections is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice. It’s also one of the most beautiful, engrossing, and haunting books I’ve read. It’s clever, original, and enthralling.

You all know how much I love novels both set in and written in the 19th century, and you also know I’m especially fond of character-driven novels, well, this is the most obsessively perfect character-driven novel I’ve read in a long time!

Unequal Affections

Unequal Affections has very little by means of a plot, and there is very little action. On the other hand, the outcome is no surprise; we all know that Elizabeth married Darcy in the end! Yet, in spite of it all, this is a compelling, unputdownable read. I relished every chapter, every page, and every word, and I’ll no doubt be reading it again, because it’s a book to be savoured slowly and repeatedly.

I was never Jane Austen’s greatest fan, and one of the reasons why I prefer contemporary renderings of Jane Austen’s works, is because she never got inside her characters’ heads. It is true that she portrayed her characters through ample conversation and actions, but to my post-Freudian mind, I really miss getting inside the characters’ minds, and understanding why they say and behave the way they do. It’s probably my fault. I may lack imagination, or knowledge of the era, but I need the characters to tell me why.

Another fabulous aspect is how the author gets inside both their minds with equal balance. It would have been easy to give a one-sided account of how Elizabeth feels, with some hints at Darcy’s predicament. Some may argue that this is what Jane Austen did herself. However, the author gets into Darcy’s mind just as easily and convincingly as he gets into Anne’s, which is no easy feat, as his point of view is far more difficult to both ascertain and convey.

The best part is how both characters evolve in just a month their courting lasts, and even better is how the reader also evolves with them. I felt I saw all the characters in a new light, because although we are given Elizabeth and Darcy’s points of view, we are given insights to all the other characters, too, such as Elizabeth’s supposedly ‘awful’ mother, who finally seems far less awful to Darcy, and so to the reader.

When I finished, I felt as if I had been abducted. I felt I had been transported through a time-tunnel into Elizabeth and Darcy’s lives two hundred years ago. I was an invisible visitor, following them around, and impatient to know what would happen next. When I came back to January 2015, I wondered melancholically how marriage and relationships between men and women had changed so much. If romantic love and how it comes about and evolves can be explained, this novel comes very close to doing so.

By the way, there must be a sequel. I hope Lara S. Ormiston writes one, because I need to go back and see how they coped with the challenges their marriage would no doubt face.

If you’ve read Pride and Prejudice, you’ll love it. If you haven’t read Pride and Prejudice, you’ll love it, too. If you love historical romance, you’ll love it. If you love novels that deal with relationships between men and women, within and between families, you’ll love it. If you love psychological dramas, you’ll love it, too.

If you’re a Jane Austen fan, or if you like 19th century novels, or historical romance, see my review of Captain Frederick Wentworth’s Persuasion by Regina Jeffers, another fabulous retelling of a Jane Austen novel.

Sequels, Prequels, Reinterpretations, Rewritings, and Writing Back…

When I am asked what my novel’s about, I reply briefly, “It’s a Victorian Gothic Romance, which takes place around All Hallows, at Eyre Hall, twenty-two years after Jane Eyre married Edward Rochester.” A typical reaction, before reading the novel, is:

“Oh, so it’s a sequel / follow-up / spin-off of the original?”

The answer is easy, “Yes, it is”, but also complex, “it’s much more than that.

Sequel, follow-up, or spin-off, are synonyms, that is they all refer to a work of literature, film, theatre, television, music, or game that continues the story of, or expands upon, an earlier work. Sequels usually portray the same fictional universe; setting, characters, and events, at a later date.

Although All Hallows at Eyre Hall is presented as the ‘Breathtaking Sequel to Jane Eyre’, it is also the sequel of Wide Sargasso Sea, because it is based on both novels. That is to say, I have taken the characters and events in both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, as my fictional reality, and the basis of my novel. The characters and events portrayed in both novels, come to life, once again, in a fictional blend, in my novel.

Just to remind you, although Wide Sargasso Sea was published in 1966, it is the fictional prequel to Jane Eyre, which tells the story of Bertha, Rochester’s first wife, and infamous ‘madwoman in the attic’.

In this sense, All Hallows at Eyre Hall is a sequel because it does portray a continuation of the original universe. Some of the characters are still present, some have died, and there are some new characters. The pre-existing characters are not exactly the same, because twenty-two years have passed, and fictional characters, as all people, evolve over time. The location is the same, although the specific setting has changed from Thornfield Hall, which was burnt down, to Eyre Hall, the mansion Mrs. Rochester rebuilt with the inheritance she received from her uncle, John Eyre.

Once readers have actually read it, they realize it’s not a typical sequel, and they say:

“Oh, you’ve reinterpreted / rewritten the original story.”
“Oh, you’ve written back to Charlotte Bronte.”

Well, that’s true, too. I’ve (irreverently, according to some), done all three. I am aware that my novel may disappoint some readers who had fallen in love with Edward Rochester, as Jane did. Unfortunately, I simply point out that Jane is in love with Rochester, and she is therefore an unreliable, or at least biased, narrator. On the other hand,  she gives me all the background information I use in my novel to expose Rochester as the villain he always was. This does not mean Jane and Rochester’s love story was a fake. It is one of the greatest literary love stories of all time, but that doesn’t mean they were perfect, or flawless characters.

I have reinterpreted Jane Eyre, based on reading between and closely into the lines Charlotte Bronte wrote. Jean Rhys, a Creole herself, was the first to ‘write back’ to Charlotte Bronte from a postcolonial perspective. Rhys gave voiceless, mad, imprisoned Bertha, the freedom, voice, and life, which Jane Eyre had denied her.

By incorporating Rhys’s thesis into my novel, I am indulging in the same rebellious literary trend. Moreover, I have also added to Rhys’s theories, by incorporating more subplots, which I picked up from spaces I found in the original. I can’t go into greater detail without including spoilers, but I have based my recreation on facts I found in Jane Eyre.

Jane Eyre is is the origin of this magnificent literary creation. It is the reason why Jean Rhys wrote Wide Sargasso Sea, and both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, are the reason why I wrote All Hallows at Eyre Hall. Looking at the three novels, which form a trilogy in my literary imagination, they are complimentary, although they can stand on their own. Each novel can be read independently, however, as they are all part of the same story, of Jane Eyre’s story, if the three have been read (not necessarily consecutively), the reader will enjoy the experience even more.

So, have I written a sequel to Jane Eyre?

Yes, I have. I’ve written a sequel to both Jane Eyre and Wide Sargasso Sea, based on a close reading and subsequent reinterpretation of the characters and events portrayed in both novels. I’ve then used my own creative license, to imagine events twenty-two years after Jane’s marriage. My aim has been to reconcile both works of art. Jane and Bertha, both Mrs. Rochesters will come face to face, and over time, as my trilogy progresses, Bertha will be reinstated and the wrongs she suffered will be repaired. How? It’s all in the Eyre Hall Trilogy