There are few romantic heroes in classic literature more confusing or less sympathetic than Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester. In her debut novel, Sarah Shoemaker has set about unmasking this brooding hero. Fully immersing readers in the language and culture of the 19th century, Mr. Rochester is a coming-of-age journey that follows the lonely and motherless Edward Rochester from bleak Thornfield Hall to sunny and humid Jamaica, through a childhood that feels torn from a Dickens novel and into the murky waters of adulthood.
Mr. Rochester differs from popular Jane Eyre retellings, such as Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, in that Shoemaker, a retired librarian, succeeds in painting a sympathetic portrait of the man. Edward is revealed to be deeply emotional and achingly lonely. His sole desire in life is a companion—be it lover or friend—and his repeated inability to find one is what drives him to become the man readers know and (sometimes) love. The strength of the novel lies in Shoemaker’s acute attention to detail and historical accuracy, particularly in her treatment of Jamaica, where slavery is king and everything young Edward thought he knew has been turned upside down.
Mr. Rochester is beautifully paced and compelling as it delivers a sweeping narrative and a new perspective to one of literature’s most famous love stories. Many questions and confusions from the original story—such as Bertha’s backstory, why Edward hides his feelings and why he finally decides to propose—have been answered. Though the novel will appeal most to fans of Jane Eyre, Shoemaker has recreated the spirit of the original, which will help those unfamiliar with the text enjoy this retelling.