Miss Jane is the latest novel from Brad Watson and one I was keen to read having heard it was inspired by the author’s great-aunt. Watson recalls meeting his great-aunt Jane as a child and knew that there was something different about her, but there was a mystery surrounding her and her life. This proved to be the inspiration for him to create a fictionalised account of Jane’s extraordinary life.
‘In time, her gaunt, dark-haired, blue-eyed beauty would be altered and sharpened by age, a visible sign of her difference, her independence, and a silent message to all that her presence in the world was impenetrable beyond a point of her own determination.’
This novel explores the life of Jane Chisolm who was born in rural Mississippi in the early twentieth century. The story follows Jane from infancy through into her adult years, as we see how she adapts to being a little different from everyone else. Jane is born with a birth defect, one which will have a significant impact on her daily life. For Jane and her family her formative years are challenging ones as they try to establish a routine, and to come to terms with Jane’s condition. However, this defect not only leaves her with an inability to control her bodily functions, it is deemed unlikely that she would be able to conceive or carry a child. And in an era where finding a husband and starting a family is considered the norm, this leads to concerns that she will not be able to enjoy her life, and may find herself alone. But as we discover over the course of the novel, Jane is a very special woman, and one that is determined to live a normal life despite her apparent limitations.
“I need you to tell me why I’m the way I am, why I’m different, or how I’m different. Why can’t I control myself?”
I really enjoyed Jane’s story and found it to be a beautifully written and moving novel. Given the nature of Jane’s defect I was a little apprehensive about how this would be portrayed but I needn’t have worried as her condition is described sensitively. I loved Jane and thought her to be a remarkable and inspiring character. From a young age she was keen to find out more about herself and what made her different. And with the help of Dr Thompson who became fascinated with Jane from her birth, building a bond that lasts for decades, she begins to learn a little more. She is eager to learn about her body and the world around her, and the ways in which life may present challenges to be overcome. She wants to lead a normal life – to go to school, to attend local dances, with the hope that one day she may have a conventional relationship. And as she grows older she becomes even more beautiful and mysterious, an independent young woman who attracts the attention of potential suitors. Watson’s writing is wonderful and it perfectly evokes the rural setting in which a curious Jane is fascinated by the nature that surrounds her. In a world where circumstances mean she is limited in her ability to explore her sexuality, she instead takes in the sensual world around her, the sights and sounds and mysteries that life can present. The beautiful intricacies in daily life that can be savoured. As the years went by I read on in hope that she could find the life she dreams of, and whilst this story is tinged with sadness it is clear to see that Jane’s life was far from lonely, and she is a woman free to live the life she wants.
“You’re just a little girl who has to deal with more things than most little girls. And that will make you strong. It already has.”
I loved Miss Jane and found it an inspiring read about a woman who overcomes adversity and embraces her unusual, but special life. Despite her limitations, she has a great spirit, and a determination to live life to the full – a fitting tribute to the woman who inspired it all.