Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Book Review: Jane
As anyone knows who reads this site I can have a hard time coming up with witty openings. Here's one of those instances, so let's take a look at this retelling of a classic tale.
After a presentation at the Chicago Public Library where her findings are laughed at, a budding paleoanthropologist named Jane Porter meets struggling pulp writer Edgar Rice Burroughs. Having already published his first work-concerning a man going to Mars-Burroughs is looking for a new subject for a story. Agreeing to tell him her story, Jane relates her adventures that led to her discovery...and the lord of the jungle.
Working her way through England's Cambridge University as the first female medical student, Jane finds herself embraced by her scientist father Archimedes Porter and the cause of grief for her proper mother as Jane is more interested in cadavers than tea times. When a dashing stranger named Ral Conrath appears, promising to back an expedition to Africa, both Jane and her father leap at the chance to finally prove Professor Porter's theory about the missing link between man and ape. Arriving on the continent they meet other characters, including a Frenchman name Paul D'Arnot who agrees to go on the safari, but Jane discovers Conrath's true colors: He's helping the vicious King Leopold of Belgium find a path through Africa as well as find a fabled lost city that contains riches. When he betrays Jane and leaves her injured in the jungle, Jane finds herself suddenly rescued by a strange white man who she will come to know as Tarzan. Eventually she heals and both become teacher and student-she teaches him English and about his past, he teaches her about the jungle and leads her to the possible answer she is looking for, a tribe of creatures known as the Mangani. They both also learn about love as Jane finds herself falling for the savage but gentle Tarzan. Along the way there is danger and heartbreak and a final confrontation with Conrath that will change both Jane and Tarzan's future.
I'm sure I left something out but there is a lot of plot, subplots and twists and turns in Robin Maxwell's Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan, a well-written and entertaining take on the classic Tarzan of the Apes. And while I did have some issues with the story I did enjoy it as a fun adventure novel with dashes of romance and danger.
The big difference here is the fact that it does retell the story from Jane's point of view and that Maxwell doesn't stick to Burroughs' original novel. While I know that will ruffle some purists, Maxwell at least tells the reader up front this. In fact it plays in well to the opening prologue of Burroughs' original novel as he mentions hearing the tale from someone "who had no business to tell it me" as he wrote. After that the novel takes on Jane's first person point of view as an independent woman. While I never found the Jane of Burroughs' novels a weak woman-especially in later entries like Tarzan's Quest-this Jane is a feminist before there was feminists, proving her opinion and wanting to expand her field of research. The opening sequences are more setup but once Maxwell shifts the story to Africa things open up and Jane becomes an engrossing read.
Which is good considering it takes a while for Tarzan to appear, even though Maxwell jumps around in time as she tells her story. The ape man here is presented as an outcast of the Mangani tribe but here he does remember his real parents as he was taken at age 4 and seeks revenge against the vicious Kerchak for their deaths. In that way his quest parallels Jane's quest to stop Conrath who she holds responsible for her father's misery. In these scenes the book comes alive as we see the emotional bond develop between Jane and Tarzan as she works to understand him and he teaches her about his life.
Don't worry though, it doesn't sink into the pretentious mess that the film Greystoke did as Maxwell keeps the story rooted firmly in the jungle and its mysteries. Eventually there is a city of treasures and massive earthquakes to provide some needed action sequences. There is also the final fights between Tarzan and Kerchak and Jane and Conrath.
There are some things to note though and some short comings. First Conrath isn't well developed beyond being a liar and a thief who at one points gropes Jane-in short a clone of Burroughs' villains like Nikolas Rokoff so he fits in but isn't given much to do and disappears for a long stretch. Also I didn't like Maxwell's rewriting of D'Arnot into a self-pitying drunk from the character in Burroughs. I understand this is her take but I still felt that character deserved better.
Probably the biggest change from Burroughs is that in this book Jane and Tarzan get physical-yes in that way. I get the feeling the major target audience is women as Jane relates her sexual yearnings, to the point that she spends an entire paragraph calling Tarzan's backside one of the seven wonders of the world. Now this material doesn't become salacious or vulgar-it's not Fifty Shades of Tarzan-it's still there so you might want to be prepared.
With all that said, I'm giving Jane a ***1/2 out of 4. It's an entertaining take on a classic tale that manages to keep the reader invested from beginning to end. So give it a chance and see what you think.