Rebecca goes to Thornfield

Mrs. Rochester’s Ghost by Lindsay Marcott

r/suggestmeabook: I want a contemporary mash-up of Jane Eyre and Rebecca.

Movie rating: R

Pages: 398

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (an Amazon imprint)

ARC provided by NetGalley

Contemporary retelling of classic

From the publisher: Jane has lost everything: job, mother, relationship, even her home. A friend calls to offer an unusual deal―a cottage above the crashing surf of Big Sur on the estate of his employer, Evan Rochester. In return, Jane will tutor his teenage daughter. She accepts.

This is a fun read, and instead of doing the usual analysis as a retelling, I’m going to talk about why I titled it the way I did. The writing is good and fast-paced, the characters work, etc., and the plot is taken from greats. However, in retellings I have certain expectations about how the new version plays with the old one, so my gut take on how to treat this was to look more at that, as expectations play such a big part in whether we like a thing or not.

I pulled out my phone. Just one bar, which quickly spluttered out like an extinguished candle.

Lindsay Marcott, Mrs. Rochester’s Ghost

I know, the book blurb says that it’s a retelling of Jane Eyre, but I kept thinking of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca: the setting on the coast with an abandoned cabin was probably the part that kept me thinking of the later novel. Okay, I admit, I’ve only seen the movie[s] version of Rebecca; I have read Jane Eyre (and seen some movie versions). (More disclosure—I hesitate to say full—I only got around to reading Jane Eyre because of Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair. Love that book.) That’s not a criticism; I like both Jane Eyre and Rebecca, and this modern gothic has taken bits of both and given a spin on them that works. But for fans of the former, this retelling may be a little different than they expected.

A heavy gust of fog obscured my view, and when it passed, the glimmer was gone, and there was nothing down there at all. Nothing except sand laced with gray foam and glistening rocks and the heaving sea beyond it.

Nothing could have disappeared so quickly.

Nothing except a ghost.

Lindsay Marcott, Mrs. Rochester’s Ghost

Evan Rochester is hot, not really how I recall feeling after reading the description of Edward Rochester. Another detail that makes me lean toward the Rebecca feel.

I became aware once again of his intense physicality. His height. The breadth of his shoulders. The power of his musculature. The rage had faded from his face, and I no longer felt threatened. Just the opposite, I realized. I felt protected.

Lindsay Marcott, Mrs. Rochester’s Ghost

However, it’s not hard to see similarities between Jane Eyre and Rebecca when you start looking, as they’re both Gothic, brooding sorts of novels. Both have the wealthy older man coupled with a naive and poor younger woman, in both the protagonist has no family, and in both, the male hero is stupidly withholding information. Both also have a current potential rival to the protagonist.

I made it back to the cottage feeling shaken and chilled. Like a first rate martini, I thought. Except, no, the best martinis were stirred, and suddenly I began to crave one.

Lindsay Marcott, Mrs. Rochester’s Ghost

For me, the strongest reason for thinking of Rebecca rather than Jane Eyre is the cursory treatment of this Jane’s family and upbringing and that she doesn’t lose her mother until adulthood. The original Jane’s childhood in her forbidding orphanage explains many of her adult choices. (Okay, I’ve got to use some kind of shorthand for the original Jane Eyre character—from here on, she’s OJ.) The Jane in LIndsay Marcott’s version has only lost her mother relatively recently, and there’s nothing to indicate the same kind of hardships that OJ underwent. At the opening of the book, Marcott’s Jane has been a successful TV writer, albeit on cable, which doesn’t parallel OJ at all.

An unwelcome surprise in my cottage. My bed that I’d left rumpled was now made up military tight. My breakfast dishes were no longer in the sink. Every surface gleamed. Anunciata had been here with her Swiffer.

Lindsay Marcott, Mrs. Rochester’s Ghost

And the other stance that differentiates it from Jane Eyre and makes it more like Rebecca is that Marcott’s Jane knows of the existence of Rochester’s wife from the outset, whereas OJ doesn’t learn of Bertha until Chapter 26. (Hell, OJ didn’t even know Rochester existed until after she arrived at Thornfield.) Instead, like the second Mrs. De Winter, Marcott’s Jane is obsessed with the first wife (Beatrice in this version for reasons that are probably obvious) even though she doesn’t come to Thornfield because of her marriage. Indeed, the Rebecca analogy is strengthened by the stronger presence of the Bertha analog’s brother in this retelling, more like the cousin in Rebecca, whom Jane interacts with on various occasions throughout the book.

And now, with visible calculation, Richard McAdams tried another tack with me: his eyes softened; his mouth assumed a boyish smirk.

Lindsay Marcott, Mrs. Rochester’s Ghost

The strongest reason to discard the Rebecca analysis is the absence of Mrs. Danvers’ psychological manipulation. The creepy housekeeper in this one is no Danvers; she barely speaks English (if at all; I don’t now recall if she said anything much), so her ability to bewitch Jane with insinuations is limited. If anyone is being a frenemy, it’s Jane’s friend Otis, an aspiring chef, who is the one who dragged Jane out to Thorn Bluffs (the Thornfield analog) to begin with.

Thickets of ferns glistened like otherworldly plants between the trunks. Hump-backed shadows flickered in the foliage beyond.

Lindsay Marcott, Mrs. Rochester’s Ghost

Regardless of the Rebecca similarities, it’s still got Jane Eyre references. The names, of course, are the most significant, as well as the general plot, although, not surprisingly, there are key differences. The character of the girl Jane comes to Thorn Bluffs to tutor is much more developed in Marcott’s story, which I found to be a plus. The brother of the Bertha character is very well done and adds depth to the story.

With the air of granting a particularly nonsensical favor, Sophia yanked the belt across her chest. Tugged her short-shorts from between the cleft of her buttocks, excavated a pack of Bubble Yum from her back pocket, and ripped it open. Crammed two pink slabs in her mouth.

Lindsay Marcott, Mrs. Rochester’s Ghost

So if you’re in the mood for a Gothic romance that is reminiscent of both these classics, check out Mrs. Rochester’s Ghost.


Rachel’s Random Resources Blog Tour

Spotlight on: Mint by S.R. Wilsher

Historical Thriller

From the publisher: It’s the summer of 1976, and after nine years in prison, James Minter is home to bury his mother. A history of depression and a series of personal issues has seen her death ruled as suicide. His refusal to accept that conclusion means he must confront his violent stepfather, deal with the gangster who wants his mother’s shop and, of course, face the family of the boy he killed.

ARC provided by Rachel’s Random Resources

Excerpt from Mint

The shop is all so familiar. This place I should have called home, yet only ever thought of as a place to return to. The address where my mother and half-siblings lived. Never home, more an approximation. I’m not connected to it like I imagine others are theirs. I hadn’t been safe here, nor welcome. My mother had been too controlled by her husband, and Sam too in his thrall. Lara had kept me here. All the time, I’d felt like the small bird being pushed from the nest by the bullying interloper. While he’d called me the cuckoo.

I restock the fridge with some milk and butter from the nearby shop and put the bread and cereal on the worktop. I open a new jar of coffee and put the kettle on.

Outside, I hear the whine of heavy machinery starting up, and the contact of whirring metal on stone.

I leave the kitchen and go out into the back yard, through the gate and into the alleyway running along the back of the houses before entering the yard of the Mason’s next door.

Along one side, slabs of rough-cut granite lean against the high wall, while black marble and white marble are stocked horizontally, kept apart by thick wood battens.  A corrugated plastic roof built off the garden wall opposite the stacked stone extends over the yard, shielding the work bench and tools and bench-saw from the elements.

White dust fills the air, billows fussily around the head of a man in a grubby blacksmith’s apron, safety goggles, and blue facemask, who’s guiding a huge slab of white stone along a bench and through a whirling rotary saw. Water sprays onto the slab and throws globules of wet white dust onto the floor. The saw reaches the end of the cut and, as the slab breaks free, he presses a red button on the wall and the machine shuts off.

The man notices me but doesn’t pause to invite me to speak, or offer to himself.

“I’m Abigail’s son,” I say, when the whine of the slowing blade ends. The dust has reached me and the air clears slowly with little breeze to disrupt it.

The man pulls the mask free. Dust has turned his thick black hair grey and clogged the deep lines of a weathered face. Years of wrangling stone slabs has built a powerful upper body with square shoulders, and large hands that hang at the end of strong forearms.

“I know who you are. I have to make the noise. Can’t work without it. That’s the last of the cutting,” he offers, as if there’s one purpose for my visit. “Your mother didn’t mind the noise, it soothed her.”

“I’m not here about the noise.”

“She liked the idea of hearing there were other people about.”

My mother had once admitted her weakness to me. ‘I don’t like being on my own, and I don’t like the company of women much. Which means I’m vulnerable to the attention of men. And women like her see only the baser reasons for that’. It had been her explanation for why Mrs Ayles had called her a harlot.

“Thought I should introduce myself, tell you I’ll be living in the shop while I’m here. In case you see the lights on.”

“None of my business.”

We face each other with our exhausted chitchat, whilst sensing there should be more.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” says the Mason, in the unpractised way of a man who doesn’t express emotion.

“I hear you found her?”

“Yes.”

“How come it was you?”

The Mason frowns, as if the answer has a multiplicity of paths for him to choose and he’s afraid he might opt for one it will be impossible to find his way back from.

“You mother and I…” He stops, already regretting the path taken. There is no way back. “We were friends.”

“Since when?”

“Since I arrived. More so after George moved out. Not before,” he adds, as if it might be important to me. “We were neighbours, so we’ve always talked. After George left, I used to go in and watch some TV with her in the evenings. She didn’t like being alone, certainly not since all you children have grown.” He stops talking abruptly, in the way of a man who’s aware he’s over explaining.

“Did George know?”

“He didn’t need to. Our relationship wasn’t improper. It was perfectly respectable.”

“I suspect George would see it differently.”

“I’m not afraid of him.” It’s a jarring boast, stuck into the conversation like a lone weed in a flowerbed. “We watched TV, that’s all.”

I don’t challenge his statement; can’t know if it’s truth or lie. It means little if it had amounted to more than his claim. My mother had been free to live the life she chose. But what had this reticent man talked to her about? Or had she talked and he simply listened. It struck me as the likely scenario of a relationship between them if sex wasn’t involved.

I catch movement in the right rear quarter of the image in front of me. A yellow flash through the doorway, and a slender woman wearing a sunny shirt tucked into jeans, bare ankles with flat shoes, and short brown hair hitched behind one ear, comes out.

“Dad, dinner’s ready,” she declares, before turning to me. “Hello,” she says shyly, and steps forward to offer her hand.

I’m struck by the contradiction of the diffidence set against the confidence of instigating a handshake. The skin is dry and the hand firm.

“Mint,” I say, and feel stupid, as if it’s a meaningless bark of a word. “Jimmy Minter,” I explain.

“Beth. Elizabeth Green.” She mimics my awkward delivery and smiles.

I’m not sure if she’s mocking me, or sympathising with me. I’ve spent nine years apart from women and I’m like a man who’s forgotten how to walk in a straight line. The need to leave overwhelms me, her presence making me feel unwelcome.

“Anyway, I’d better go. If your dinner’s ready.” I recall a long-forgotten line from the manual of social interaction.  “It’s nice to meet you.”

Their eyes are on my back as I leave the way I came, and I’m in the shop before I remember my unasked questions. I want to return, need to get to the end of that particular conversation. I battle with the pull of curiosity and the contra-tug of my self-consciousness. 

I’ll go back tomorrow, when my sudden retreat has faded from their minds.