What I've read lately
argross at bigpond.net.au
Tue Jan 28 06:25:34 EST 2003
> On Mon, Jan 27, 2003 at 11:07:12PM +1100, Abe Gross wrote:
> > The prize for the most Disappointing Book goes to Sharon Shinn's _Jenna
> > Starborn_. I love nearly everything Shinn has written, particularly her
> > Archangel books, though I was somewhat disappointed in the ending to the
> > last one. The resolution was weak and a real anti-climax. I especially
> > her _Wrapt in Crystal_, and her next-to-last one, _Summers at Castle
> > (though it isn't flawless by any means). So I was really looking forward
> > _Jenna Starborn_. What a disappointment. It's basically the story of
> > Eyre, set in a futuristic society. It does have a few cute quirks, but
> > just doesn't work. Putting Jane in the society Shinn posits here makes a
> > nonsense of the story; the characters (almost the same as the original
> > novel) feel like cardboard, including the main character, whose main
> > and decision (exactly as in the original) makes no sense whatsoever. So
> > Shinn has taken the Jane Eyre story and used it almost exactly as it
> > in a different context in which it just doesn't convince. OK. Rant over.
> I agree that "Jenna Starborn" was a let-down, and I think part of the
> problem is that it *did* start off well, and some things worked well --
> I do think Jenna's origins made sense of her childhood treatment, and
> the origin of the Mad Wife was also a good twist. But I do agree, there
> are too many things which don't make sense in the new context. Some of
> it is the consequence of earlier parts of the story -- for example
> Jenna's origins in themself, render some later parts of the story almost
> nonsensical. (Kathryn restrains herself from spoilers) Another thing
> that didn't sit well, I think, was the religions in the story. In the
> original, it was set in an old-fashioned Christian society. In this
> futuristic society, the made-up religions felt to me like the author was
> desperately trying to avoid alluding to any existing religions,
> especially Christianity. All that ended up doing was, well, removing
> some potential richness from the background, I think, because I found
> the religions felt terribly contrived too.
I agree. And, because there was no feeling of a believable religious or even
cultural context for it, her refusal to marry the Roshester character (I've
already forgotten his name) just felt silly.
> Now, it isn't that I dislike retellings in different contexts --
> otherwise I wouldn't even have started reading the book, since I knew it
> was supposed to be a retelling of Jane Eyre, and I like Jane Eyre.
> Retellings can work wonderfully -- as has been demonstrated by Tanith
> Lee's "Red As Blood" or Robin McKinley's "Door In The Hedge" or
> "Deerskin", and don't forget Joan Vinge's "The Snow Queen".
> And you can't say that only fairytales work for sources of
> retellings, because Alfred Bester did "The Count of Monte Cristo" in his
> "The Stars My Destination" (aka "Tiger! Tiger!") and that worked
I don't know that particular example, but I agree about retellings: they can
make you see the original in a new light and infuse the new story with
richness from the original. I was expecting something like this from Shinn,
who knows how to write, which is exactly why I was so disappointed.
> So why did they work, and this one didn't? I think maybe for a
> retelling to work, one has to focus on the emotional core of the plot,
> rather than its details. In "The Stars My Destination", the emotional
> core is a man betrayed -- the form the betrayal takes is different, but
> the emotional resonance is the same. Concentrating on the characters is
> always a good thing.
> So, could Jenna Starborn have been salvaged if it had been written in a
> different way? I don't know.
This is such an interesting question! I'm sure it's possible to write a
succesful story using the Jane Eyre themes, but I'm not sure that the method
Shinn has used could have been successful if she'd just written it
differently. I think the problem is that she's simply plonked a story
wholesale into a different context, without successfully translating the
issues and emotions. I agree with you that character is also a key. Jenna's
character didn't work for me because again, she seemed like a pale copy of
Jane that didn't ring true. What might have worked is if Shinn had created
her own new character, at home in her own particluar context and culture,
and then used some of the Jane Eyre themes and plot elements to make us care
about her, and to make her dilemmas feel real. But that didn't happen.
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