Ironskin by Tina Connolly
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Ironskin is a clever re-telling of Jane Eyre with a delicious heaping tablespoon of faerie thrown in. Since Jane Eyre is tied for my favorite book of all time, I definitely loved that about this book. I appreciated catching the references to the original novel and reading the author's original story with her own ideas based on this beloved classic. In other words, this is not a word for word redux of Jane Eyre. Instead it's a "what if?" sort of take on the novel by Charlotte Brontë.
I am captivated with the post-World War I period and the twenties, and it was a big plus that this book is set somewhere in that late 1910s-early 1920s period. Also, the infusion of faerie into the modern period that would seem incongruous but wasn't. The Gothic atmosphere is prominent, and the menacing allure of faerie magic. Don't look for friendly fey in this book. They are mean and vicious, and terribly insidious. The fey storyline turns out to be quite interesting and unsettling. Connolly taps into the essence of Post-War morals, the shunning of deep things and an enhanced superficiality. Shallow above substance. While the Great War is quite different in this book, the scars it left on society are similarly wounding to the survivors, and the society grabs onto the bright phony allure when so little of the Pre-War way of life is left behind.
Most of the characters are walking wounded, with some who seem blatantly unsympathetic. It takes a while to see where Connolly was going, which impacted my rating, honestly. Even until the end, I felt ambivalent, and the story was rather ambiguous. And yet, there was something impactful about this book. I think Connolly connected to the aesthetic in me. The appeal was in the dreamy and artful descriptions of the house and characters and the manner in which she revealed characters, with descriptions and body language telling much of who the characters were even before they open their mouths. Additionally, the characters' emotions were seething off the page. For this reader, that always speaks loudly when reading a novel. Jane, a tortured heroine who is drifting and surviving, because she has no other choice. When she finds a home with Mr. Rochart and his daughter Dorie, she fears it's an elusive dream, because of persistent feelings of inadequacy and a lack of self-worth. In this way she differs from Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre is ever-aware of her shortcomings, but her sense of self is so strong. She is a tiny ball of determination and powerful will. She refuses to settle for less than she deserves, even if that means denying herself the man she loves. This Jane has to grow into that, and while I wasn't happy with some of the choices she made, I was happy that she found the fighter within that was buried under a mountain of hurt. Mr. Rochart is more vague and lacks the vibrancy of Rochester. He's also not as abrasive as Rochester, which is an enduring part of this character's appeal to fans of the novel. But I think he's a better fit for this Jane. He's her Rochester in the end. Dorie had such an impact on me. The lonely, troubled child in need of love and care that Jane is able to connect with. She is one of those younger characters that inspires the mothering urge in me. Also Poule's character. I can't speak on her at length, since it would spoil what was a very novel part of this book.
While Ironskin was a good book, it just didn't satisfy me completely. There was a sense of inertia when I read. As though the story wanted to get someone but it wandered aimlessly in a series of ever-widening circles. I'm not sure if that effectively conveys how I felt as I read, but it's as close as I can articulate at this time. The aspects of this story that appealed to me are significant, which is why I would recommend reading it. I just wanted more momentum in this book. Ultimately, I did appreciate the underlying themes. It speaks on the power of substance and will over all that glitters. Also that our wounds and scars can make us stronger, because they are tangible evidence of the inner truth. That we are survivors, down deep. We must just find that core of strength to prevail over our doubts and fears to grab hold of what we desire and need most in this life.
Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.
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