Jane, Unlimited

Monday, March 5, 2018


Jane, Unlimited
Kristin Cashore, 2017

Premise: Jane is grieving the loss of her Aunt Magnolia, the woman who raised her. She dropped out of college and doesn't know what to do with her life. Maybe that's why she accepts when an acquaintance invites her to stay at her family's creepy mansion. But eventually she'll have to make a choice.

Wow. This was a very unique book, and very well-written, and intriguing. I didn't love all of it, but I did find it extraordinary and striking.

I have to talk about the plot in order to explain.

The first part of the book is lovely. It's dreamlike. Jane stumbles around the big strange house observing the strange behavior of its various inhabitants. There is clearly something going on. People sneaking around in the dead of night, oblique references and whispers in the walls, none of the family members or friends seem to like each other that much, a dog that won't leave her alone but doesn't like anyone else. Missing artwork, missing people, attraction, confusion, and secrets.

Then Jane is faced with a choice of which mystery to follow up. And the book splits.

The rest of the book is five different endings to the story. Like a choose-your-own-adventure, except in sequence.

I found the first ending particularly unsatisfying because it was much more grounded, turning the dreamlike surrealism into a concrete classic mystery. I liked the more wacky, out-there endings more.

In some endings, Jane acts on her attraction for Ivy. In some, she doesn't. In some, she discovers things about her aunt or other people in the house, and in some, she learns different things. What's both interesting and (at times) frustrating is that the endings build on each other or leave convenient gaps such that all the answers could potentially be true, even as the final outcomes are different in each ending because of Jane's actions. You can see stories that went one way in ending one playing out in the background of other endings, potentially going a different way.

The other fascinating (or gimmicky, pick your perspective) thing is that each ending is in a different genre. Ending three, for example, is horror, and I found it REALLY effectively horrific, so bear that in mind. Ending four (surrealistic sci-fi, where we learn for sure that this book does not take place on our Earth) was probably my favorite, although the fifth (fantasy) is good as well and a nice place to end.

The story up to the split point could potentially go in any of these directions, but they are very different. There's some discussion of multiple worlds theory throughout, implying that each ending is equally valid on some level, based on Jane's choice. It's all about choice and paths, some that you can control and some that you can't.

In the end, I liked this a lot, although the endings didn't quite resolve together enough for me to love it. Even if your choice probably won't lead you to a magic portal or a secret spy ring, every choice counts.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

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