Book of the Month: ‘Jane’ by P.F. Jeffery

Posted: September 19, 2013 in Books of the Month, Writing Talk

Jane Cover‘Jane (The Warriors of Love)’ by P.F. Jeffery

 Product Details

  • Paperback: 436 pages
  • Publisher: Chomu Press; 3rd edition (15 May 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1907681221
  • ISBN-13: 978-1907681226

Link to purchase on Amazon – http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jane-The-Warriors-Love-Jeffery/dp/1907681221

The Review

It had been on life-support for some time. Comatose. A little over a week ago, they turned the machine off. It flat-lined. There wasn’t so much a death’s rattle as a gentle passing over into that good night.

Patriarchy was declared dead by the author Hanna Rosin. You can read all about it in a critical article (not an obituary) written by Lola Okolosie and published by The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/17/patriarchy-hanna-rosin

Taking this premise “thousands of years in the future”, P.F. Jeffrey’s Jane focuses on the continuing division between the sexes. By now it has become “entrenched, turning to warfare.”

Most of you will have heard of the famous feminist slogan – attributed to Gloria Steinem – suggesting that men are superfluous to women’s needs: “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”. Perhaps you’ll know it from the Guinness advert from a few years back. In Jane, “The future is female. (…) Males have become unnecessary…”

“Many technologies are lost and much history forgotten, but gynogenesis (by which two women may have a child) is becoming the scientific foundation for the Empire of Her Majesty, Berenice I.”

Jane is, then, a true origin story. It is a narrative which explores the growth of matriarchal society. It is a work of towering imagination, staggering wit and vital energy. After a relatively slow start, the narrative positively crackles with energy, most of which seems to stem from the vitality of our narrator and protagonist, Jane Brewster.

Unfolding “amidst the haunted marshes of outlying Essex, the routine and romance of homes and offices in the Surrey heartland, and the crumbling feudal heritage of Lundin town, the action unfolds like the panorama from a stagecoach window”, Jane offers the reader more than a glimpse of Jeffery’s carefully constructed new world.

“Jane is a sixteen-year-old civil servant under Her Majesty. Sent to audit the spoils of battle, she falls for Captain Modesty Clay, precipitating a maelstrom of events that force her to grow up fast, and in which she catches the eye of the Empress herself.”

It is a coming of age tale, a tale of the journey from innocence to experience. Initially naïve, Jane’s intellect – both social and academic – grows the more she is exposed to the different strata of society in this new world. She is Jeffery’s version of Frodo and Sam, setting out into the unknown, eyes wide open. She is C3PO and R2D2 all rolled into one.

At first Jane is wide-eyed: “It was the first time I’d seen men girt for war. For a moment, the sight struck me as more unnatural than alarming, as though beasts should engage in human activity.” (Which subtly recalls Steinem’s fish and bicycle quote). Like many girls her age, she has been reared on “too many Jacqui Blood stories.” (For Jacqui Blood read  that other famous literary JB, James Bond)

But eventually her character undergoes change: “My journey, as explained in these pages, has taken me from homesick girlhood to becoming a young woman setting out on life’s greatest undertaking – although not doing so without trepidation.” (That origin story again).

Jeffery’s world-building is well done. The text is full of neat touches like the real/ imagined place names (Lundin etc.), the songs and the threatre, and the new names for days of the week, months: “Briday evening”, “Selday morning”, “the fifteenth of Swellbelly”. There is a real, believable empire, culture, literature, economy here. God – the traditional idea of Him at least – is dead. Now He is simply an “Old Time godling”.

Not only is God dead, but Jeffery also shows us women destroying the old signifiers of patriarchy in Lundin (including throwing rocks at portraits of men who formerly occupied positions of authority, one of whom, Cornelius Lock, seems to resemble Cromwell). This is the overthrow, the sacking, of previous ways of doing things, of running the world. Jeffery draws interesting parallels between women and slaves (both of whom were seen in patriarchal society as not much more than “semi-intelligent domestic animals”). This is some slave’s revolt.

This is a move towards a new world order. Towards “the essential matriarch code (…) emphasized modesty amongst other virtues.” Not everything is perfect. There remain stark class distinctions. But Jeffery shows us a more sensory/ sensual world. Each chapter begins with an appeal to all of our readerly senses: “Bright sunlight, warm on my bare arms, shone from a blue sky flecked with white wispy clouds. Geese, bustling through the marshes in huge numbers, filled the air with a honing cacophony. The taste of a typical camp breakfast lingered in my mouth – sausages, eggs and mushrooms. A plume of steam rose from the mug of sweetened rosehip tea, cradled in my hands. Its honeyed scent teased my nose.”

Jane is a very visceral read. It is subtitled ‘The Warriors of Love’ and there is a great deal of sex (and Games of Thronesian sexploitation) here which Jeffery doesn’t exactly shy away from (I’ll never look at a cream cake in the same way). Jeffery, in an authorial note which concludes the text writes: “There were certainly downsides to 1950s England, in which I grew up. That said, some of the significant improvements since then affect adults, rather than children – notably relaxations in censorship and in the control of sexual behaviour.”

Jeffery yearns for the 1950s in the text. “On balance, 1950s England was a good time and place to be a child. In fact, I feel sorry for twenty-first century children. Our parents sent us out to play, allowing us extraordinary freedom. And there were such places to play – wasteland of kinds one no longer sees. There were, of course, bomb sites – but I think that my favourite playground had been used, in some way, by the British military, and then abandoned.” The author’s future world looks a lot like a nostalgic older world. Technology, as we have seen – gynogenesis apart – has disappeared. It’s a back to basics world.

Jeffery’s created world then, is wildly different from ours. But there are interesting meeting points. Jeffery refers to a Credit Crunch, for example, and debt collection companies. Ultimately though, as is noted in the speech of one of the characters: “The world is a stranger and more complicated place than you imagine. And the human heart is about the strangest and most complicated place of all.”

And Jeffery is most powerful when writing about the human heart, through the protagonist Jane. I mentioned Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland earlier. In Jeffery’s explanatory notes, the author admits this was a favourite book in childhood. “Writing this, I’m irresistibly reminded of the Caterpillar’s question, and Alice’s answers:

“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied rather shyly, “I – I hardly know, Sir, just at present – at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”

“What do you mean by that?” said the Caterpillar, sternly. “Explain yourself!”

“I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid,” said Alice, “because I’m not myself, you see.”

Jeffery shows us a human heart which is changeable, which is fragile, which is sometimes false, but one which beats positive and true.

Though at times Jane was a difficult read, at its own heart this is a brilliantly original and bold text, which stands apart. Recalling, by turn, the postapocalyptic south England of Will Self’s Book of Dave, the ‘into the rabbit-hole fantasy of Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and the futuristic vision of Margaret Atwood, Jane is a book which provokes thought, inspires discussion, and most of all, deserves to be read.

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Comments
  1. […] review of JANE (Chomu Press): the first of a duodecology of novels entitled The Warriors of Love: https://paintthistownred.wordpress.com/2013/09/19/book-of-the-month-jane-by-p-f-jeffery/: “It is a work of towering imagination, staggering wit and vital […]

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