I was drawn to Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore when Other Jenny said it was “Rebecca as a choose-your-own-adventure, by way of Diana Wynne Jones.” And… I’m not sure I can actually do much better than that for a 13-word synopsis. But here is a much, much more wordy try.
Jane has lost her sense of purpose after the death of her Aunt Magnolia, the only mother she’s ever really known. When her friend Kiran invites her to a gala at her home, the island mansion Tu Reviens, she accepts, partly because she doesn’t know what else to do with her life just then, and partly because Aunt Magnolia once made her promise never to turn down an invitation to Tu Reviens.
When she gets there, everything is mysterious. The owners of the mansion (the family Thrash, art collectors extraordinaire) and their house guests are acting strangely. The servants (Ivy, Patrick, and Mr. and Mrs. Vanders) are acting more strangely still. Even the darling dog is kind of weird. There are hints about art theft, about the mafia, about biological warfare, about missing children, about spies, about ghosts, about the first Mrs. Thrash, and about the second Mrs. Thrash, Charlotte (who disappeared about a month ago.) There are references to quantum physics. There are weird sounds in the air, in the pipes. Jane cannot figure out her own role or what’s going on.
And then there comes a moment of decision. Jane has a choice of four different people and one dog to follow. Which should she choose? After this, the narrative splits and reiterates: if she chooses Kiran, one thing happens, if she chooses Mrs. Vanders, another thing happens, and so forth. Each iteration always comes back to that moment of choice. And each story is delightfully stranger than the last; each story explores something that couldn’t possibly be, and yet is; each story is right for itself.
I enjoyed this book completely. I think if it had hovered in the realm of the choose-your-own-adventure, I might not have liked it so much, but Jane was really trying to grapple with the notion of secrets and lies, and with finding out that Aunt Magnolia hadn’t told her seven-year-old self everything about her life. These stories, these worlds, show us so many possibilities (like a world where it rains frogs, nice nod to Magnolia, a film I adore), and it was lovely to think about all the ways fiction shows us what might be, or what is in a different world. I also thoroughly enjoyed all the references to Jane Eyre, to Rebecca, to House of Mirth, and to Winnie-the-Pooh (and I’m sure there were others I didn’t get.) It felt like a fantastic in-joke. And I haven’t even mentioned the musing about art, mostly with reference to Jane’s creative umbrellas. It was a quick read — I finished it in about a day — and it was a real pleasure. I haven’t read the Graceling series. Should I?