Note: I'm uploading my books from Goodreads and since there are like 200+ it's going to take awhile. The uploading seems a bit wonky too, so hang with me as I fix things. Also there may be spoilers until I can make all the appropriate tags.
I'm an ex-English Major who, sick of reading classics after college, decided to read all the trashy books I didn't before because I was too snobby. Since graduating, I've entertained myself with comics, YA, and romance novels, finding out they can not only be decently written, but superbly written. I've since recovered from my classics aversion, but I'm now more open-minded reader willing to read from any genre. If a book has kick-ass heroines and/or witty banter and/or takes place in a different time or place (including fantasy settings), I will most likely fall in love with it. My favorite authors are Jane Austen, Shakespeare, E.M. Forster, Meljean Brook, Sarah Rees Brennan, Rachel Hartman, Catherynne M. Valente, and Aliette de Bodard.
2 out of 5 Stars
WARNING: TV Tropes links ahead! You've been warned.
Jane travels with her Darwinist father to Africa in search of fossils to prove humanity’s evolution from apes. When betrayed by their guide, Jane is saved by a handsome jungle man, Tarzan. While her remarkable rescuer teaches Jane how to survive in the jungle, Jane realizes Tarzan himself may hold the key to the missing evolutionary link...
Jane is a reimagining of the Tarzan stories through Jane’s perspective. I was never a huge fan of Tarzan (not even the Disney movie that everyone loved), but I love classic retellings. Sadly, Jane did not convince me to love Tarzan.
My biggest problem was that this book felt too preachy. Jane felt more like a soapbox for the author than her own character. I hate it when books are holier-than-thou, even when extolling my own beliefs. Usually, in these types of books, the characters are very shallow and either good or evil – there is no grey. “Good” characters posses all the “good” traits and “bad” characters posses all the “bad” traits. And while this may work for some epic fantasy and simple stories like fairy tales, legends, etc., it doesn’t work in a book trying to be passed off as somewhat realistic and “literary” fiction.
Part of the problems stem from the problems inherent within the original Tarzan story. I haven’t read the original books, but from what I gather they are very much a product of their times. African characters are “savages” and “cannibals” and Tarzan constantly plays the role of conqueror. While maybe not blatantly racist, Jane hits other problematic stereotypes such as “Noble Savage,” “Going Native,” “Magical Negro,” and “Mighty Whitey.” I had hoped a retelling could maybe subvert these tropes and give a more modern politically correct take, but alas it was not to be.
The main problem is the character of Jane herself. She reads like a modern 21st century woman – feminist, atheist, and pro-science – with no trappings of the Victorian upbringing she would have had. I’m all for characters who buck tradition, but Jane reads more like an anachronism than a nonconformist. It doesn’t help that every other white female character (minus a Hooker with a Heart of Gold) is written as old-fashioned, frivolous, irrational, and not-as-awesome-and-amazing-as-Jane. The other girls attending university with Jane, girls who would be considered very progressive and improper in 1905, aren’t as “enlightened” and “admirable” as the anachronistic Jane. Jane is even dismissive of her own mother. Her mother is written as a buffoon, when she is a woman of her time. Any worthwhile mother-daughter conflict is ruined by the cartoonish nature of her characterization. It’s even more disturbing when, more often than not, male characters prefer Jane for her radicalism. Jane is more attractive and awesome to men than “those silly feminine girls.” The judges of female worthiness are men and, in the end, it’s all about male attention and male acceptance. Not very feminist, eh?
The one other positive white female character is a textbook “Hooker with a Heart of Gold” who awkwardly gives Jane all the sex knowledge she needs to fuck like a porn star. However, Jane still looks down upon her, stating *she* would never deign to sell her body to a man. Well, that’s great. It’s really nice being a member of the gentry, where you don’t have to worry about money and surviving on your own and have the money, time, and resources to skip around dissecting corpses and digging up fossils. Check your privilege and shut the fuck up Jane.
In fact, the politics in this whole book read as very elementary white, upper-middle class, Second Wave feminism. Before feminism realized there were other voices and problems not being addressed. White guilt shows up too because ALL the African characters are noble and accommodating and perfect, yet utterly helpless without Tarzan and Jane to save the day (well, mostly Tarzan. For all her I AM WOMAN HEAR ME ROAR!, Jane is incredibly useless in any climatic scene). None of the African characters are fleshed out beyond their inherent nobility to welcome and serve white people. Jane muses they probably have their own gender issues, but they get a pass unlike the Victorians because everything in Africa is SO AMAZING AND WONDERFUL AND SIMPLE as opposed to corrupt Western society. Not problematic at all.
The plot itself is a bit disjointed (but then again most adventure stories are). In the frame story, Jane relates her story to Edgar Rice Burrows, the author of the original Tarzan novels (of course, he is infatuated with Jane and scoffs at his own wife to prove Jane is the most special of all women). Jane, a Victorian lady, is really going to tell all the sexy bits to a male stranger she just met? From there the plot jumps back and forth between when Jane first meets Tarzan and the events leading up to the Porter expedition. At least a third of the story is spent before Jane even gets to Africa. The jungle parts of the story are full of episodic adventures that for the most part, do lead to one whole story. However, the main story is abruptly cut off on a cliff-hanger, and then related through the frame story in an extremely rushed second hand account. I had whiplash.
Tarzan himself was a very loveable character and I liked his interactions with Jane away from any sort of civilization. I thought it was clever how Maxwell tied the apes and Tarzan to the burgeoning evolutionary science that Jane and her father studied.
The Tarzan stories are fraught with problems many Victorian novels fall into – gender issues, racial issues, etc. I had hoped this book would try to tell a more modern tale, avoiding those pratfalls. Instead, it zoomed to the other side, getting a soapbox anachronistic heroine and perfect noble yet characterless African characters there to serve the white characters. Jane is an alright story, but too preachy to be enjoyable. I’ll stick to George of the Jungle reruns.