Miss Jane by Brad Watson

Miss Jane was born in the early twentieth century into a family who lives on a farm in rural Mississippi. The Chisolm family did not plan on having any more children, especially after Jane’s mother has suffered miscarriages, stillborn babies and the death of a toddler prior to her conception. Jane was born with a urogenital sinus anomaly, a birth defect that meant she has a persistent cloaca (for more information you can google this).

This defect, that was an inoperable condition during those times, led to Jane being incontinent for most of her life. From a young age she had to learn that she was different and would most likely live her life in a way that differs from those around her, but she was convinced not to let it get in her way of living a normal life.  She asked her parents to allow her to go to school, but because of the cruelty of other children, her public school year was cut short.

She knew that she might never be able to maintain or have a real relationship with a man or have children. Her doctor, who were present with her birth, made sure that she was familiar with her condition and took great care in ensuring that she knows what her expectations for her life would be. Dr Thompson was a light in Jane’s life – he handled everything he did for her with sensitivity and in many ways she was the daughter he never had. He worked constantly on aiding the research on her condition and truly believed that one day they’ll be able to fix her.

Despite being well informed, Jane had hopes of living a normal life. She did fall in love, despite knowing that perhaps she can never be with this guy. Her parents, who generally avoided the topic of her defect, took it upon themselves to send Jane away to live with her sister, Grace (who used to take care of her as a child). They wanted her away before she ends up with a broken heart. I suppose that’s their way of showing their care, they didn’t want her to get hurt.  Jane lives her life in town, mostly alone.

The book explores Jane’s struggles from a young age to adulthood (and further) with sensitivity and tells the story of a brave young woman, who had to adjust her life and expectations based on her difference to those around her. She had no friends really, but Jane had a strong personality and learned how to live life fully in her own way, thriving in farm life and solitude. Not much can further be said about the story, other than it being a sort of coming of age story for a child living with a birth defect that affects her life in almost every aspect. But Jane dealt with it all with grace and courage. I admired her for it. There’s not to say that there weren’t days when she was struggling emotionally, but she was resilient. The book ends with Jane as an old woman, where her chances of living a normal life as a woman have greatly improved, yet this angers Jane into one thought: IT’s TOO LATE.

This is a beautiful story and it’s beautifully told. If you go into this story expecting to read about her life growing up into a woman then you’ll be satisfied. I expected more of the novel, I kept waiting for something great to happen, or something to be revealed, or a lost love who returns to her. But it didn’t happen. Jane had love, perhaps better than most, as hers were pure love, considering physical love was out of the question, but my expectation was for something more at the end. Entirely my fault for having this expectation. But I can’t fault the novel on what a good coming of age story it is. Beautifully written!

Disclaimer: I received this book from Panmacmillan SA for review consideration

  • Ricki Treleaven

    Very well-written review. Thanks for explaining your expectations and how they weren’t quite met.

  • You’re right that nothing much happened and I can see how it would be disappointing if you were expecting more. For me, it was a perfect character study. While I was deeply sad for Jane I also had tremendous admiration for the dignity she showed throughout her life. And even if it wasn’t joy as we think of it, she was true to herself. There’s a special beauty to that.

    • You’re absolutely right, it was a perfect character study and that’s why I enjoyed reading it so much. I loved reading about the journey Jane was on and felt for her. She was so immensely strong and graceful. My “disappointment” was the ending, but that’s just a small thing that in no means overshadow the fact that this novel is so worth the read. I just thought I’d mention my expectation – but it definitely got a high rating from me for the rest of the content 🙂