Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore
Kathy Dawson Books, 2017, 464 pages
YA Science Fiction
After her Aunt Magnolia makes her promise to accept any invitation to a house known as Tu Reviens, Jane of Kirstin Cashore’s Jane, Unlimited finds herself the recipient of just such an invitation from her former tutor, Kiran. With her umbrella-making supplies in tow and her heart still broken by the death of her Aunt Magnolia, Jane heads to Tu Reviens where a strange cast of characters, from the owner of the house to Kiran’s twin brother to the housekeepers, all seem to have something to hide. While odd things happen around Jane, she’s not sure who to trust and where to go. It all comes down to making the right decision — but what is it?
The feeling I got from Jane, Unlimited was, in short, this: (perhaps inspired by E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars), Cashore had a gimmicky idea and placed the importance of that concept over the actual quality of the book as a whole. Like We Were Liars, it’s difficult to talk about the shortcomings of Jane, Unlimited without giving away the bulk of the book. The book is not realistic fiction, but instead mixes fantasy and science fiction in pursuit of the concept in a way that doesn’t feel entirely natural. And, due to the construction of the idea, the idea itself is never fully developed in a meaningful way.
So, the gimmick wasn’t executed well and the prose Cashore seats it in doesn’t help. Cashore employs third person, present tense in the novel, combined with a style that I haven’t quite wrapped my head around. Something about the sentence structure is incredibly deliberate and, consequently, distracting. Much of it made the narrative drag even more. While present tense often serves to amp up the tension (ha) and immediacy of a plot, here, though it was necessary for the concept, it seemed only to slow things down. The development of the concept, meanwhile, requires a significant amount of exposition, which further slowed down an already-sizable book at 464 pages.
Another aspect bogging down Jane, Unlimited was the sheer number of characters. Although many individuals live and work at Tu Reviens (and, indeed, a party is one of the central plot points of the story), the house always seemed to have an empty feeling. I suspect this was partially by design, but further emphasized by a challenge of character development — again, the victim of the concept of the novel. Too many characters inhabit the story and, without getting to know many of them, the narrative falls short. This, however, has another side — Jane knows as much about the characters as does the reader. Her confusion and such, then, is more palpable and easier to invest in, in some ways.
Cashore’s ending — again, a complicated term, given the concept of the book — felt insufficient. Without a better development of the concept, the concept is unable to be resolved and the ending provided by the narrator and all of the frustration built up over the course of the book doesn’t pay off in a way that matters.
Jane, Unlimited might do interesting things with allusions (especially Jane Eyre, from my perspective), but the gimmick of the book ultimately provides an excuse for all the flaws in the novel without making up for the flaws. With all the excitement over the book, I was pretty severely disappointed in this one. As one Goodreads reviewer, Sarah, wrote, “I’ve been walking around for days thinking that I don’t like reading anymore.” And, truly, that was my experience with Jane, Unlimited, too. Don’t buy the buzz on this one.
❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤