Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan
by Robin Maxwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan / 978-0765333599
I picked this up because while I haven't read the original "Tarzan of the Apes", I have seen several movie renditions and I feel like the underlying fantasy of Tarzan and Jane is incredibly compelling. (Plus, look at that cover. That cover should win an award, if it hasn't already.) So I was expecting a nice action tale with a fresh-and-feminist narrative viewpoint.
And, well, I got that -- but it took a long time to get there.
My copy of this book weighs in at a reasonable ~300 pages, but this feels like one of the longer books I've read in awhile. The pacing at the beginning is slow enough that several times I was tempted to give up, and it's not until about the halfway point that things really picked up for me. Tarzan himself doesn't even appear until page 130, outside of a few brief tantalizing flashbacks that interrupt the narrative of the "main" flashback.
And I think I'll take this moment to register a quibble. This book starts with Edgar Rice Burroughs, the author of the original Tarzan stories, as a character in the book, and the whole story is told to him by a 'Real Life' Jane. I'm not really a fan of this kind of plot device; no one is going to be fooled into thinking this was the 'real' origin of the Tarzan story, and the whole thing is largely vestigial: an opening and closing chapter that weakly attempt to explain why this version and the original version don't align neatly.
This flimsy explanation was not, in my opinion, necessary -- and raises more questions than answers in my mind. I don't know if the author genuinely thought this attempt at melding the old and the new was a good idea, or if this was insisted upon by Burroughs' estate, but it feels very clunky -- especially when things get hot-and-steamy and the reader is forced to remember that Jane is narrating extremely intimate details of her sex life to a complete stranger so that he can write it all down as a fictional story.
Anyway, returning to the narrative, once Tarzan enters the picture, things pick up -- but it's not a race to the finish by any means. There are long periods of teaching, learning, training, and diary reading, and finally I realized that this isn't an adventure book. It's more of a romance novel slash world building novel set against the lush backdrop of the Tarzan mythos. And once I realized that, I was still able to enjoy the book even though it wasn't quite what I'd expected going in. Tarzan and Jane are larger than life characters, and the prose here is gorgeous, so I enjoyed the book, if not always the pace.
Other things I liked about this novel: I liked the character growth of Jane (once we got out of the first 100 pages which made me uncomfortable with all the repeated comparisons to her 'natural' beauty against the 'artificial' beauty of Every Other Woman in England). I liked how well the fantasy of Tarzan as a person is handled here; he's equal parts vulnerable and powerful, and the fantasy is played to the hilt. I liked that there's a very real and actually pretty decent discussion here about privilege and prejudice, as Jane acknowledges that she has both and works hard to overcome the latter and not be judgmental of other cultures. (She even comes to realize that the Primitive Savage concept is more complicated than that, which I thought was nice in a property that ultimately hinges on that fantasy.) I liked that there are plenty of people of color in this novel, and they are portrayed (in my opinion) with respect and depth of character.
I do recommend this book for climbing into the fantasy of Tarzan and living for a few sweet hours. Twice during my time with this novel, I set it down and popped in one of the two Tarzan movies I own, just to see the visuals and dwell in the experience. If that reinforces my gripe about the slow pacing, it will hopefully also underscore that there's a lot here to be savored. If you can bear a slow pace for an emotionally fulfilling payoff, then I can recommend this book.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.
~ Ana Mardoll