Reader I Married Him edited by Tracy Chevalier – Book Review

Title: Reader I Married Him

Editor: Tracy Chevalier

Contributing Authors: Joanna Briscoe, Tracy Chevalier, Sarah Hall, Susan Hill, Elizabeth McCracken, Nadifa Mohamed, Audrey Niffenegger, Patricia Park, Francine Prose, Namwali Serpell, Elif Shafak, Lionel Shriver, Salley Vickers, Evie Wyld, Emma Donoghue, Helen Dunmore, Esther Freud, Jane Gardam, Linda Grant, Kirsty Gunn, Tessa Hadley

Genre: Short Story Fiction inspired by Charlotte Brontë

Blurb from Goodreads

The twenty-one stories in Reader, I Married Him – one of the most celebrated lines in fiction – are inspired by Jane Eyre and shaped by its perennially fascinating themes of love, compromise and self-determination.

A bohemian wedding party takes an unexpected turn for the bride and her daughter; a family trip to a Texan waterpark prompts a life-changing decision; Grace Poole defends Bertha Mason and calls the general opinion of Jane Eyre into question. Mr Rochester reveals a long-kept secret in “Reader, She Married Me”, and “The Mirror” boldly imagines Jane’s married life after the novel ends. A new mother encounters an old lover after her daily swim and inexplicably lies to him, and a fitness instructor teaches teenage boys how to handle a pit bull terrier by telling them Jane Eyre’s story.

Edited by Tracy Chevalier, and commissioned specially for Charlotte Brontë’s bicentenary year in 2016, this collection brings together some of the finest and most creative voices in fiction today, to celebrate and salute the strength and lasting relevance of a game-changing novel and its beloved narrator.

My Review

Jane Eyre is one of my all time favourite books. To me it is sheer perfection in book format. So if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading Jane Eyre I suggest you remedy that…HASTILY!!!

The year 20116 marked 200 years since Jane Eyre’s author Charlotte Brönte’s birth and to celebrate a collection of short stories by modern authors inspired by the novel was commissioned.

And I just want to make a note about the beautiful cover which features a pomegranate made to look like a heart.

I’m curious as to why the publishers and/or editor chose the pomegranate. There is a scene in Jane Eyre where Rochester talks about making his decision regarding Bertha while he “walked under the dripping orange-trees of (his) wet garden, and amongst its drenched pomegranates and pine-apples…” I suppose you could reason that the pomegranate therefore played an important role in Jane’s life because of Rochester’s decision that day. The path he chose to follow… How ultimately it led to those four words Reader, I married him.

Each author in this collection took that famous line of Jane’s, ‘Reader I married him’, and let their own imagination take flight but all the while holding fast to Jane’s independent spirit. As with all short story collections some stories appealed to me more than others. I would like to mention that the majority of these stories are both very modern and loose interpretations of the source material. Jane is purely the authors’ muse.

What follows is a brief review of each of the 21 short stories.


1) My Mother’s Wedding by Tessa Hadley

All his experience had been in books and he’d never properly come up against life in its full force before: he fell for the first real thing he laid his eyes on, like an innocent in a Shakespeare play.

Each story in this compendium is inspired by the line Reader I Married Him.

This particular story follows along the thought process of how brave it was of Jane, and Charlotte, to make that statement. “Reader I married him“. I made up my own mind. I chose to do this. I have my own free will. My future is mine alone to decide what to do with.

This story primarily follows the tale of a seventeen year old girl at her slightly kooky mother’s wedding in the middle of the Welsh countryside. It’s a story about making bold choices, a story about being different from the crowd. I liked this story quite a bit. It twisted and turned and I enjoyed the ending.


2) Luxury Hour by Sarah Hall

A young mother is torn between past and present, looking for that sense of peace and calm for a luxury hour at the lido away from her infant son but then comes face to face with her past and her decision… Reader I married him

Who did she marry? Why did she marry? And was it the right choice?

This story looks at the idea of committing oneself but trying to forget about it for just an hour… And then maybe even longer


3) Grace Poole Her Testimony by Helen Dunmore

The pale one thinks she has the measure of us all. Up and down the garden she goes in the shadows of the evening. She ticks us off in her steps. The old lady. Mr R. The little girl. The guests who come and go. She would tick me off too but she only knows my name. She asked it and they told her: Grace Poole.

Oh this story was VERY interesting. I guess it’s like a little bit of Jane Eyre fan fiction???

The focus is firmly placed on the shoulders of the character Grace Poole who featured in the original novel and how she came to her station in life. Her interactions with Mr Rochester before Jane ever arrived on the scene and then…the coming of the pale one as she refers to Jane. It’s not a story that paints Jane or Rochester in great light but OH is it a little bit goooood!!! “Reader I married him” Oh she WOULD say that, cue judgmental eye roll from Grace Poole!!! Haha I loved it!!


4) Dangerous Dog by Kirsty Gunn

This short follows an incident in which a woman taking a writing class compares her life to that of the young orphaned Jane Eyre in the beginning of the book. The scene with Jane locked away in the red room resonates so strongly with her that she finds ways of communicating with others using the book as a conduit.

It took me a little while to get in to this story, to see Jane so to speak…but towards the end things clicked together and there was a lovely twist on the Reader I married him line. It really is lovely how that one line can influence so many different people in so many different ways.


5) To Hold by Joanna Briscoe

As my parents’ only child – no further births; no boy to help with the rough work; no man’s wages to soften old age; only one womb available for the grandchildren they already treasured – I was aware that all hope lay with me, though they never said it, and the knowledge made me swallow a rise of nausea. They were good parents.

This story starts with the words ‘Reader I married him because I had to‘.

It set the scene for a sad and wistful story about one woman’s struggles for love. The writing was quite sharp but I mean that in a beautiful way. It was as if the writer used a blade instead of a pen to write these words. The story just immediately cut into my heart and I could feel the narrator’s sorrows, her pain, her hopelessness at her situation. I found myself sniffling and attempting to hold back my tears… I wasn’t successful.


6) It’s a Man’s Life, Ladies by Jane Gardam

Of course I married him states the character in this short… However, for me, that wasn’t enough! I could not find the spirit of Jane Eyre in this story. I even reread it but I got bogged down in strange talk of seals and babies??? I’m still scratching my head about all that! And it was all rather haphazard in the end. Sadly this one wasn’t to my liking.


7) Since First I Saw Your Face by Emma Donoghue

But it doesn’t sound to me as if it’s modern life that’s done the damage. Minnie’s given the headmaster six children in eleven years, and her health collapsed after the last. “Small wonder,” I tell her. “The womb is our Waterloo.” That makes her laugh. “Is that why you’ve never gone to war, Ellen?” Spinsterhood has more than that to recommend it.

This short gives a fictionalised account of the time that Mary “Minnie” Benson (née Sidgwick), the wife of Reverend Edward Benson, Archbishop of Canterbury, spent convalescing in Wiesbaden. It describes her relationship at the time with a woman named Ellen and how it may have been romantic in its nature. Much has been talked about the later relationship of Minnie and Lucy Tait, a daughter of another Archbishop of Canterbury, with whom she shared a bed with after her husband’s death.

I married him and there’s no getting away from that” states Minnie.

The story is told from the viewpoint of Ellen, a woman with a pallor to match Jane Eyre’s, and how she is transfixed by Minnie. How she wants more from their relationship but how circumstances will not allow it. How is Minnie supposed to choose between loves; the love of her children who are at home and to whom she must be return, or the love of this woman who is restoring her soul and who is making her feel alive? Despite all the conflict and heartache in this short story, sadly it didn’t quite fulfil its potential I felt.


8) Reader I Married Him by Susan Hill

Security was all I ever longed and struggled and schemed for, because since very early and forgotten childhood, I had never had it, and my deepest, my driving fear through it all was that I never would. Security. Did I achieve it?

GAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! This was perfect! The way the story slowly reveals itself to you, how it tugs on your heartstrings, the dawning of realisation, just EVERYTHING!!!

It’s the memories of a woman who all her life dreamed of security. “Reader I“… She married for security mistaking it for love and the consequences of what followed when she met ‘the one’. Oh I don’t want to say anymore so as not to spoil this wonderful little story for anyone who may eventually read it. I just loved it. And Jane Eyre’s independent will was ever present in my opinion.

The last lines were utterly perfect. I completely broke down into a teary-eyed mess!!!


9) The Mirror by Francine Prose

This story is told from the point of view of Jane Eyre herself, reader I married him and here is what actually happened…

I didn’t particularly care for it. The storyline tried to be too smart and in the end lost the heart of who Jane truly was.

This one wasn’t for me.


10) A Migrating Bird by Elif Shafak

His words, so unexpected and so sincere, shake me to the core.

This short doesn’t mention the words ‘reader I married him’ throughout its text and so comes at the idea of marriage in a very different light.

It explores the heart of a young girl who allows herself to hope for a future filled with love, with her dream for marriage and happiness. It’s very bittersweet and very beautifully written.


11) Behind the Mountain by Evie Wyld

This story again doesn’t mention the words ‘reader I married him’ but instead uses that line to show what happens to a good woman and, in her words, a good man when life gets stale.

It follows the story of an English woman who moves to Canada because of her husband’s job and how she is slowly losing herself.

It’s quite a sad story and one that made me feel very sympathetic towards both the MC and her husband. Sometimes life just doesn’t quite turn out the way we had hoped.


12) The China from Buenos Aires by Patricia Park

This short follows a young woman who has always felt like somewhat of an outsider; she is Argentinian but with Korean parents and this has shaped her whole outlook on life it seems.

The story follows what happens to her when she moves to New York and the decisions she has to make about her life; following her heart or her responsibilities to her family.

Reader do I marry him?


13) Reader, She Married Me by Salley Vickers

****SPOILERS FOR JANE EYRE****

This short story is Mr Rochester’s version of events of what happened when Jane left Thornfield after their failed marriage ceremony. It looks back upon his first marriage with Bertha and how after her death he didn’t actually want to marry Jane anymore but Jane, being the wilful creature that she is, insisted on marrying him… Reader, she married me! Okay I thought, I’ll bite…

BUT THEN!!!!!

Oh but then THIS happened: there’s a creepy idea that Jane reminded him of someone in his past that made me want to get sick and I went HELL NO!!!

That’s not freaking Edward Rochester!!!

THAT’S NOT MY BOOK BOYFRIEND!!!!!!

So I didn’t like this. Okay fine, maybe that’s because I love the way the characters were written by Charlotte Brönte so very much and this was just much too alien to all of that for me…

But in my opinion writing from Rochester’s point of view could have been wonderful. It could have shown how broken he had become and the genuine difficulties that would have no doubt occurred within his marriage to Jane…

But that creepy comparison of Jane to his supposed dead child with Bertha and saying that was why he was initially attracted to her….. EWWWWWWWW!!!! shudders

****END SPOILERS FOR JANE EYRE****


14) Dorset Gap by Tracy Chevalier

Ed watched her from the pub window, walking away along the empty country road, her wellington boots making her look like a farmer’s wife. Beguiled by the bit of calf between the bottom of her dress and the top of her wellies that flashed with each stride, he pulled on his jumper and went after her.

This made me perfectly happy.

It’s the story of a boy who likes a girl. A girl who is different to the others. Marches to the beat of her own drum. She like Jane ‘has an independent will; no net ensnares her‘.

Reader I made her laugh.


15) Party Girl by Nadifa Mohamed

I stood in bars, clothed but naked, looking from their eyes to my feet and back again. Still there was the longing to contend with: the heavy, bloody, chemical urge to consume another body and spit out its bones in a new child. How do you make a stranger so intimate when they could so easily destroy you?

I didn’t love this story. I didn’t connect with the party girl of the title, I didn’t feel Jane Eyre…

But then I read the quote above…

And I loved those words.

Sometimes words can etch themselves on your heart. These words did that for me. I loved their honesty, their brutality… I loved their truth.

Can you give a short story full marks for one beautiful quote?? In my opinion, absolutely!


16) Transference by Esther Freud

But instead of leaving, I spent hours running over past events, bewailing my passivity, recasting myself as the fiery, outspoken woman I wished I was.

A short story about a woman struggling in her relationship and seeking to find love, comfort and herself through counselling.

Reader does he want to marry me? Do I want to marry him?

I love the relationship the MC has with her counsellor. It’s so ambiguous and heady and leaves many questions hanging in the air.


17) The Mash-Up by Linda Grant

The funny short!!!

This collection was missing a funny story up until this point. This story is about how two culturally different families come together for a wedding, definitely a comedy of errors.

Reader I married him amidst the bedlam and chaos!!

I LOVED the ending. Made me chortle.


18) The Self-Seeding Sycamore by Lionel Shriver

While still free-flowing and unforced, the grief had been so immersive, so rich and pure and concentrated, with the opacity of Cabernet, that it verged on pleasure. Yet from the start the anguish had been spiked with an awful foreknowledge that the keenness of her loss would blunt, leading to a second loss: a loss of loss.

Wonderfully written short story with a neighbourly theme.

Reader I married him and we made all these plans but how were we to know that time was not on our side.

The protagonist is a woman in her fifties who has recently lost her husband and is beginning to fight through her all-encompassing grief. She takes on the task of sprucing up the garden as her late husband used to and encounters a wily old sycamore tree…


19) The Orphan Exchange by Audrey Niffenegger

This was a reimagining of Jane Eyre’s story featuring characters from Jane’s time in Lowood and also briefly mentions Adele, Rochester and Bertha.

The story takes place during a harsh war of some kind and casts the spotlight on the young Jane’s relationship with the character of Helen and how that shaped her future. It’s very poignant and I really enjoyed the different spin on the classic story.

Reader we married when we could and it was more than enough.


20) Double Men by Namwali Serpell

A story about female friendships, mothers, daughters, fidelity…

Reader they were to be married.

I found it a little confusing and had to read it a second time because of what felt like the sudden appearance of a character late in the story… The plot needed to be better developed. An extra paragraph here or there would have helped in my opinion however I did like the friendship between the two main characters.


21) Robinson Crusoe at the Waterpark by Elizabeth McCracken

This story followed a couple on holiday at a water-park with their little son. The older man in the relationship, Bruno, spends the story thinking back on how he came to be with Ernest and on compromises he has made for the relationship and how, for him, their family equates to being married even though this was not what Ernest would like.

Reader we are already a family, is that not enough?

Through the story he explores his fears, examines his beliefs and thinks back on his first marriage to a woman and to why he changed his mind about having a child. The story was sweet but a little bit dull unfortunately.


Overall I feel that I enjoyed the whole collection of short stories more than I did the sum of its parts! So consider it a strong recommendation if you’re a fan of both short stories and Jane Eyre.

Other Works I’ve Reviewed by Authors Featured in this Collection

My Socials

6 thoughts on “Reader I Married Him edited by Tracy Chevalier – Book Review

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