Miss Jane by Brad Watson

Review published on May 1, 2017.

Inspired by the true story of his own great-aunt, Miss Jane tells the story of the life of Jane Chisholm, born in the early twentieth-century in rural Mississippi with a birth defect that will come to stand in the way of the central ‘uses’ for a women in that time and place – namely, sex and marriage.

Yet from the country doctor who adopts her to the hard tactile labour of farm life, from the sensual world of nature around her to the boy who loves but is forced to leave her, the world of Miss Jane Chisholm is anything but barren.

The medical condition she is born with leaves her doubly incontinent. This, obviously, limits her choices in life but gives her a solid sense of self-sufficiency. She just got on with it.

There are some explicit passages in the book and I loved the chapter in which her sister tries to do a spot of match making and Jane allows her incontinence to have its way at the dinner table in order to prove a point.

The problems Jane faces are relevant to anyone who is not deemed to be ‘normal’, especially in today’s world when perfection is so important. I guess medical science has progressed now and, today, Jane’s problem would be sorted early in her life. However, the story of Jane forces the reader to think about the important things in life and how much a person’s happiness relies on conforming to society’s ‘norms’.

The author tells Jane’s story in an unsentimental way but manages to get across the inherent sadness of unattainable love. Jane’s spirit gives her the strength to live her life as she pleases, in spite of the limitations that others and her own body place on her.

This is an uplifting story and yet a sad one. The author deserves some credit as he has told a women’s story with great sensitivity. I would recommend this as a choice for book groups as there are lots of areas for discussion.

Dorothy Flaxman 4/5

Miss Jane by Brad Watson
Picador 9781509834310 hbk Nov 2016

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