SECOND OPINION: Miss Jane by Brad Watson

Review published on December 29, 2017.

It is 1915 in rural Mississippi and a daughter is born late in life to the Chisolms, long after they thought their family was complete. Jane has a difficult upbringing with a harsh, bitter mother who has not recovered from the death of a toddler son and the disappointment farm life has turned out to be, and a gentle, hardworking father who drinks heavily to get himself through the days and nights. Worse still, she suffers from a rare physical abnormality which has left her incontinent, but it is not until her teens that she realises just how inhibiting her condition is to any possibility of marriage and children.

None of this sounds as though it would make for happy reading and it is indeed a sad story in many respects, even more so as the Depression years unfold. Jane’s character, though, shines through – her resilience, independence, lack of self-pity and ability to find happiness in her landscape and the natural world. Somehow she is able not to mourn what she has not, but to delight in what she has. She makes lasting friendships, particularly with the local doctor, a lovely, caring man who becomes something of a father figure to her, and her worldly and resourceful older sister. Her emotional progression over the years is skilfully and sensitively handled – I don’t think I ever pitied her but came to admire her quiet and dignified acceptance of everything thrown her way, good or bad.

Brad Watson’s writing is a joy, especially the descriptions of the landscape of Mississippi. One example: ‘A human being made out of dust from the earth would never hold up, and a human
being made from mud would be nothing but a crumbling mold creeping about swamps to keep from drying and whisking away in the wind, like the dust she stood watching drift and settle back onto their driveway, no longer disturbed.’

A wholly satisfying read, beautifully imagined and written, especially poignant since it was inspired by the author’s great-aunt’s life, and I think reading groups might welcome it as something a little out of the ordinary.

Sue Broom 4/4

Miss Jane by Brad Watson
Picador 9781509834334 pbk Jul 2017


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