– An early advanced copy pictured, since the cover reveal has not occurred at the time of the writing of this review –
I think it’s safe to say that we have all been awaiting a new book by Kristin Cashore. I was delighted to see that there is a new one on the horizon for fall of this year. The book, titled Jane, Unlimited, has very little description to recommend it. That said, it’s become one of the most sought after books of 2017 on pure hype alone. I understand very well, because I, myself, both read and adored Cashore’s previous trilogy, including Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue. I have been looking forward to something by her since I read an arc of Bitterblue back in 2012.
A few weeks ago, a very plain, very unadorned advanced copy of the book showed up at my work place. I took it home immediately and began to read it almost as fast. Two nights ago, I finished the book, and I have been trying to frame my thoughts around it ever since.
It starts with an ordinary girl named Jane; a young woman newly aggrieved by the death of her beloved Aunt Magnolia; an animal photographer attempting to save the oceans by raising awareness. Jane is eighteen and does not know what to do with her life after the tragedy. She makes umbrellas for fun and has kissed both a boy and a girl. She has dropped out of college, unmoored and directionless by the death of her aunt.
When a friend, Kiran Thrash, invites Jane to her home, Jane reluctantly agrees. Tu Reviens is not an ordinary place. It is a sprawling estate, luxurious, foreboding, and not without its own secrets. Upon arrival, Jane meets a host of characters who reside there; some family, some caretakers, and some who just happen to be about. You have Ravi, Kiran’s twin brother, their father Octavian, who is reeling from the recent absence of his wife, Charlotte, who left him. There is Kiran’s partner, Colin, and Ravi’s partner, Lucy, a woman who solves art thefts. There is Patrick who works for them and his sister Ivy, who fascinates Jane. There are the Okadas, Philip and Phoebe. Then there are the mythical Panzavecchias, who everyone mentions frequently, though in absentia.
Everything is going well until suddenly two famous pieces of art go missing. That is when this novel kicks into gear, and when we discover what is really at stake in Tu Reviens.
Jane, Unlimited is, at its core, a mystery novel, a whodunit in a very classic way. However, it is also a Science Fiction novel, a Contemporary Fiction, a Spy Thriller, a philosophic Coming-of-Age story, and a bit of a Romance tale packed into one book. There are six distinct parts to the book and, surprisingly, you get six different types of book within. Ultimately though, it begins with a quandary – who stole a Vermeer painting and a Brancusi fish sculpture? Where it diverges from the formula into other genres is in the unraveling of the case itself. Instead of giving us a traditional linear format, Cashore works out-of-sequence and solves the mystery for us up front. She then provides detailed information in a series of revealing sequences that fill out the story afterwards. As such, she sometimes repeats information that disorients the reader, making them feels as if they have lived this life before, been there and done that. However, every time she does this she also adds a new element that feeds into the overarching plot and takes the book in a totally new direction both in structure and in feeling. It takes some getting used to. In fact, it took me half the book before I really had an inkling that this was what she was doing – that she was playing tricks on me, repeating herself, Groundhog Day-ing me.
This method of revelation defies tradition. Instead of happening upon clues and building up the case, Cashore works by subtraction, giving us scenes ahead of schedule that never feel forced. Typically, I myself am not the biggest mystery fan, as I find it very easy to solve things as the details are collected. In this case, my attention was kept because I didn’t have that formula to rely upon any longer. She kept changing things about and reinventing how the info was presented. This simple twist allowed me to wander through this mystery naturally, to come to terms with it and put the pieces together in a very different way. It broke the mold for me in a way that I, granted in my very limited mystery reading experience, had never seen before. I don’t know that this has been attempted previously, but the fact that I have not seen it yet made it new and fresh. I couldn’t stop reading, and I have not been in that head space for some time – that I had to keep reading to find out what was happening.
There is, of course, a reason for everything. There is a catch to Tu Reviens that makes it special, that makes this novel special, and magical, and transcendent, but I can’t tell you why it is. If the cat is let out of the bag, it ruins the entire novel. Believe me when I tell you to avoid all spoilers possible and just immerse yourself in this book. It’s a very odd book, one that requires devotion, but it’s very worth it. You will feel like it’s not what you want it to be, and yet it’s an immensely satisfying book.
But, and here is a fair warning, it’s extremely character driven, and you have to make it through the first hundred pages to get anywhere. I anticipate that this may frustrate some readers.
Lest you feel like I have not said enough, here are a few images from the novel to whet your interest – a room of opened umbrellas, a night’s chase in a bay, scrabble words with high points, a painting that you can reach through, two kidnapped children, a young man with graying temples, Winnie-the-Pooh, underwater photography, an ongoing Beetles play list, a lovable basset hound and his strayhound counterpart, an Edith Wharton novel, lovers on the outs, a gunshot wound, Unlimited vs. Limited, elaborate art ruses and heists, a fateful ride in a dumb-waiter, mafioso connections, the reason little black dresses were invented, UD17, sea bears…I could go on and on and on.
Jane, Unlimited is not your average novel. It’s defiant in that it won’t meet any of your expectations, so it’s best to remove any before you open the book. It’s a lovely novel about the power of space and time, and the many layers that occur between close-knit family and the friends they keep. It is a multi-dimensional thrill ride with unique and varied worlds to explore. And, when it comes down to it, it’s about a young woman name Jane – grief-stricken, rudderless, and barely coping – and seeing if she makes a successful go of it. It’s unique, unlike any book I have ever read, and I won’t forget it any time soon.
5 out of 5 stars.
– Follow the Reader –