Re Jane by Patricia Park

In brief: A retelling of Jane Eyre in the modern era. Jane’s a Korean-American orphan in Flushing, Queens looking for a job.

The good: I loved seeing the both the familiar parts of the story and how it was then changed for the modern era.

The not-so-good: Jane can be a selfish woman quite often.

Why I chose it: I love Jane Eyre.

Year: 2015

Duration: 13 hours 29 minutes (book is 352 pages)

Narrator: Diana Bang

Publisher: Penguin Audio

My rating: 8.5 out of 10

Re Jane started off as a really fun read, a retelling of Jane Eyre that turned the story on its head and shook it up and down. Think a modern, Korean-America Jane who toils in her uncle’s corner store in Queens, New York (imaginatively titled ‘Food’). A Jane that didn’t get the career she went to college with due to the economic downturn, so decided to take an au pair job just to get out of Queens. A Jane that flies across the world on a whim, telling no one and reinventing herself – hang on, that sounds completely different!

Well it does because it is. While some of the similarities in Patricia Park’s retelling are obvious are soon as they are revealed, there are also big changes to the narrative. If you have a slavish devotion to original plot, there are some aspects of Re Jane that you really won’t like (like K-dramas, Beth as Bertha and the way Jane strings along some people). Hang on, did I just make a statement that Jane wasn’t a perfect golden heroine? Yes, I did. Jane Re is selfish and whinging at times. She’s after what’s best for her, except quite often she doesn’t know what it is herself. She abandons Devon, who she is the au pair for after sleeping with her father and flies to Korea, telling nobody. Oh, and this all happens on the night of 10th September 2001. So nobody – not her uncle, not the Farleys (Beth and Ed) know whether she’s dead or alive. But Jane doesn’t stop there. In Korea, she gets engaged, but then decides that’s not really what she wants either. I get that Jane is mixed up, being an orphan with a doubt over her parentage, bummed over her inability to get a job in her chosen field and young and foolish, but- she is still really, really selfish and unthinking. So while I started out loving Jane, in the end I wasn’t too fussed what happened. She seemed to take everything in her stride, then expect more without giving anything.

And our modern Mr Rochester? Well, Ed Farley was a limp fish for me. He’s not particularly stand-out awesome, nor brooding and moody. He’s just an average guy who is happy to go with the flow, cheat on his hyper-achieving wife and makes sandwiches. He was kind of bland. While I understand that in no way should Jane’s future depend on Ed in this day and age, he’s not a hero I wanted her Jane. They just seemed so…unsuited (even though Ed could be just as selfish as Jane). I much preferred Jane’s suitor in Korea, who was sweet, devoted and caring. I felt bad for him when things turned pear shaped! For me, the other star was Devon. The modern Adele, she’s smart and sassy and not afraid to try to bend the rules. I felt both Jane and Ed gave her short shift in the later part of the novel – I would have loved to see more of her.

Despite my character gripes, I did enjoy the story of Re Jane, trying to match the plot movements to that of the original story and marvelling at how well Patricia Park changed things for the modern era. Kudos also goes to Diana Bang, who was the perfect voice for Jane and did a great Korean accent. I loved Jane’s explanation of nunchi (trying to fix a particularly awkward situation smoothly – something that happens a lot in the story) and tap tap hae (that feeling that everything is closing around you in a social situation) and the section of the book set in Korea. It’s a good story, just don’t expect Jane herself to be redeemed.

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