What’s it about?
In this riveting debut novel, See What I Have Done, Sarah Schmidt recasts one of the most fascinating murder cases of all time into an intimate story of a volatile household and a family devoid of love.
On the morning of August 4, 1892, Lizzie Borden calls out to her maid: Someone’s killed Father. The brutal ax-murder of Andrew and Abby Borden in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts, leaves little evidence and many unanswered questions. While neighbors struggle to understand why anyone would want to harm the respected Bordens, those close to the family have a different tale to tell—of a father with an explosive temper; a spiteful stepmother; and two spinster sisters, with a bond even stronger than blood, desperate for their independence.
As the police search for clues, Emma comforts an increasingly distraught Lizzie whose memories of that morning flash in scattered fragments. Had she been in the barn or the pear arbor to escape the stifling heat of the house? When did she last speak to her stepmother? Were they really gone and would everything be better now? Shifting among the perspectives of the unreliable Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, and the enigmatic stranger Benjamin, the events of that fateful day are slowly revealed through a high-wire feat of storytelling.
I didn’t know anything about the Lizzie Borden case before I started this book. Well I’ve heard reference made to the case in the past of course but didn’t know the full details (I had a movie with Christina Ricci waiting for me to watch which they gave on tv recently but I deliberately didn’t watch until after finishing this novel and it bore many similarities, even in details, apart from the stranger) so this was all new to me at the time and I can’t compare to the real details of the case or other stories, because appearantly there have been a few already.
I’ve seen this novel getting some mixed reviews and I did finish it so it was perfectly readable but I admit I struggled a bit as well to get to the end. The lyrical prose in this novel wasn’t really a style I’m used to and I never found myself enjoying it quite as much as I wanted.
The opening of this novel was great though, I was revved up from the very first pages because that’s where Lizzie Borden finds her dead father. She kind of gave me the creeps from the moment I met her because she finds her father dead and mutilated and her reactions were strange and yes, even disturbing. Her observations all through the story are an attack on all your senses. She’s very descriptive and direct in what she sees all through the story, even smells are described vividly, but there is not an emotional side to her so it was not possible for me to really connect with her. She should be a grown woman of 32 at the time of the murders but comes accross as a petulant child, not all the time but definitely more than once. Who in the world wants their sister if they’ve had a nightmare at that age?
We are told the story from four interesting points of view: Lizzie, her older sister Emma, the maid Bridget and an acquaintance to their Uncle John, Benjamin. The storyline however is never delivered in a straightforward way, there are snippets here and there and scenes and events are revisited many times, leaving me none the wiser about what really happened on that fateful day. What is evident though is the fact that the little family was far from being perfect and everyone wanted to escape their suffocating bonds in some way. The relationship between the sisters is peculiar and toxic. They dislike each other but love each other just as much. Everyone could have done it in theory but this novel is not set out to be a real hunt for the killer. The reason for the killing is never spoken of in words or explained but all that was going on in that house gives an idea what was playing and the reason why it could have happened.
I especially got a good feel for the atmosphere surrounding the events in this novel, which was this books greatest strength and I think the ending of the novel was not too surprising but rather a logical conclusion and confirmation of my thoughts, one I can can certainly live with.
Nice to know: The paperback edition of this novel has an interactive cover that you can activate by using an app called blippar. You can see the pear being eaten by insects. You can see it here : pic.twitter.com/stV3xqJ3kq
I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.