As you read the reviews on Bookshop Talk, you'll notice that every review is positive. No, we're not a bunch of literary
pushovers who love everything we pick up; we just see no point in telling you about a book if we didn't like it.

April 5, 2011

ROMANCING MISS BRONTE by Juliet Gael, 2010

Romancing Miss Bronte: A NovelA brilliant mélange of fact and fiction, Juliet Gael skillfully and stylishly captures the passions, hopes, dreams, and sorrows of literature’s most famous sisters—and imagines how love dramatically and most unexpectedly found Charlotte Brontë. . . . With her sisters, Emily and Anne, Charlotte conceives a plan to earn money and pursue a dream: The Brontës will publish. In childhood the Brontë children created fantastical imaginary worlds; now the sisters craft novels quite unlike anything written before. Transforming her loneliness and personal sorrow into a triumph of literary art, Charlotte pens her 1847 masterpiece, Jane Eyre. (Amazon)

Review by Amy Finnegan, Writer, Reader, Bookshop Talk Host

First off, don't let the title fool you–though there is a love story, this isn't much of a "romance." What it is, however, is one of the best historical novels I've read in the last several years. For the week that it took me to read it, I truly felt like a Brontë sister (okay, maybe not emo Emily, but certainly Charlotte or Anne).

According to everything factual that I’ve read about the members of the Brontë family, I think Juliet Gael does an exceptional job portraying them. While it’s important to remember that this is a fictionalized account of the scenes that may have unfolded during those pivotal years that the Brontë sisters unleashed their genius on the world, this book is so well written that it honestly felt like I was reading a journal.

I laughed, I cried, I felt butterflies, I cheered . . . I couldn’t believe the unfairness of it all. The author had my heart in her hands. Gael could have told me the fates of these famous sisters turned out differently, and I would have believed her.

On that note, if you don’t already know how the personal stories of Charlotte, Anne, and Emily end, don’t be tempted to look it up before reading this book! Let this novel take you on a journey you won’t forget.

I’ll never look at Jane Eyre, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, or Wuthering Heights the same. I better understand the hearts of the women who penned these masterpieces—the tragedies and triumphs that created their unique voices.

These legendary sisters exposed the world to a deeper, more passionate, and even death-defying, type of love that has yet to be seen again. Romancing Miss Brontë pays wonderful attention to the details of their lives, and to the people who were lucky enough to know them.

Market: Adult Fiction
Language: Mild
Sensuality: Moderate. (G-rated until a few steamy–but not trashy–scenes in the last third of the book. They felt completely out of place in an otherwise squeaky clean novel.)
Violence: Mild
Other Mature Themes: Depression, death, religious tolerance, women's rights/roles

Book formats:
(There is also an excellently narrated audio book of this novel that can be found on Audible.com.)

PS – a review of the incomparable Jane Eyre will be posted on Bookshop Talk within the next couple of weeks. If you haven’t already read that novel, get started!

7 comments:

Kim said...

This sounds SO WONDERFUL!!! You had me at "felt like I was reading a journal." I'm fascinated! Thank you for this lovely review, Amy.

And I'm going to take your challenge: I'm going to re-read Jane Eyre, hopefully before the review comes out! I'm excited! Plus, I want to re-read it before I see the movie, which may never actually come to my local theater...or to any other theater within 100 miles. WHY? Why are they showing movies with titles like "Killer: The Saga Still Continues," when they could be showing Jane Eyre?!

pie said...

As something of a purist, I probably wouldn't have considered reading a novelization of the Brontes' lives, but your review makes me want to get the book now! I read Jane Eyre last year for book club, and then I read Elizabeth Gaskell's biography of Charlotte Bronte, and it made me want to know more about her. It'll be interesting to see what this book brings out compared to that one.

Kim, there are a lot of things I don't like about living in a city, but one thing I do like is close proximity to independent movie theaters! I saw "Jane Eyre" last weekend and really liked it. (Although they did have to take out a lot to fit it into 2 hours - but I just filled in the missing parts in my head.)

Amy Finnegan said...

pie - Elizabeth Gaskell is another favorite English author of mine (I lovvvvve North & South!), and she is in this book as well - quite a lot, actually. It's so interesting, too, because in North & South, Margaret Hale's father is a minister who has split from the body of the church, and in ROMANCING MISS BRONTE, there is quite a bit of talk from the clergymen in Charlotte's life about Gaskell being a bad influence on Charlotte for similar reasons.

So I'm really curious about the extent of what is fiction and what is fact there. I HAVE read elsewhere that Charlotte's family wasn't happy that Gaskell wanted to write the biography. But one thing is certain: Charlotte and Elizabeth knew one another well!

Another interesting thing about Charlotte Bronte is that she considered Jane Austen's books to be simplistic and basically fluff pieces (and Charlotte's books were published about 30 years after Austen died, so it wasn't a competitive jealousy thing). The reasons she gave though - basically that the female characters in Austen's books had very little to vex them but romantic mishaps - is actually quite accurate.

Bronte's books really do have a lot more meat in them, and her romances are more realistic and complicated, but there's really little in common between a Bronte book and an Austen novel, so I happen to love both equally!

Most of that was totally random, but ah well! :)

Kim said...

pie: I'M JEALOUS!!! I guess I'll see it when it hits the tiny independent theater here. Or when it comes out on DVD. :)

Amy: Like you, I love Austen and the Brontes. I'll take 'em both, with tea and scones, please.

Amy Finnegan said...

With tea and scones . . . and a few broody men, thank you very much :)

I guess that is ONE thing Charlotte and Jane did have in common.

pie said...

Another thing they have in common is all of us readers who like them both! The Washington Post did a fun article when "Jane Eyre" came out about Jane Austen and the Brontes. http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/jane-eyre-movie-rekindles-austen-vs-bronte-the-battle-of-the-bonnets/2011/03/08/ABTZY5k_story.html Are you a Janeite or a Charlottan?

Amy, I will definitely have to read Romancing Miss Bronte now that you say Elizabeth Gaskell is in it. I bought a collection of Charlotte Bronte's letters, but since my Bronte fervor had waned at that point, I didn't read it. I think I'll need to read it after Romancing Miss Bronte to see what Charlotte Bronte herself has to say.

When I really like a book, I want to like the author too. With modern books, I go straight to authors' websites (which is how I ended up here - through Jessica's blog). But since the Brontes don't have blogs (that I know of), learning about them takes more, but very interesting!, effort.

Amy {BookshopTalk.com} said...

pie, let me know if you read Romancing Miss Bronte! I'm so curious to hear what you think of it :)