Saturday 18 February 2017

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Lizzie Borden is a fascinating character.

Did she or did she not kill her father and stepmother with a hatchet one summer's day in Fall River, Massachusetts in 1892?

So much has been written and said about these rather gruesome murders over the years. So much speculation and innuendo. What more is there possibly to say?

Firstly, in 2012, the journals of Lizzie's attorney, Andrew Jackson Jennings were bequeathed to the Fall River Historical Society.

Since then, the Society have had the journals transcribed by curators Michael Martins and Dennis Binette.
Snippets of information have been leaked out during this time, but apparently we are awaiting the publication of a book from the Society for the full reveal!

In the meantime, we have another book fictionalising Lizzie's story, Sarah Schmidt's See What I Have Done.

It's hard not to believe that Lizzie committed the murders. She was in the house at the time. She had the opportunity and the motive. And well, let's face it, from everything we've read ever since, she was rather unstable and most likely had a narcissistic and/or borderline personality disorder going on (not that everyone with NBPD is capable of murder, but it's just another one of the factors stacked against Lizzie in this case).

Schmidt tells her story from multiple perspective - Lizzie, Emma (the sister), Bridget (the maid) and Benjamin (a 'friend' of Uncle John's). This is where her tale diverges from some of the others.

Benjamin is a very dubious low-life thug that Uncle John meets en route to Fall River. He engages Benjamin to rough up/talk to Andrew in an attempt to dissuade Andrew from certain financial actions that John wasn't happy about.

Schmidt then uses Benjamin to 'see' things that others in the house at the time couldn't as well as using his presence to explain why the police couldn't find a murder weapon. Later on, he acts as the catalyst for the life-long estrangement of the two sisters in 1905.

This was a satisfying explanation, although somewhat frustrating at the same time. Benjamin is a fictional character in a story with real life well-known people. He provided us with some plausible possibilities, but ultimately, he's not real, so therefore his solutions are not the ones we need to solve this case once and for all.

I guess we will never know for sure, unless Jennings' journals prove to be as earth-shattering as the curators have promised.

If you'd like to read more versions of Lizzie's story you could try Angela Carter's The Fall River Axe Murders and Lizzie's Tiger, Elizabeth Engstrom's Lizzie Borden and Brandy Purdy's The Secrets of Lizzie Borden.

The murders and trial of Lizzie have also attracted a number of movie adaptations over the years. Actresses who have portrayed Lizzie include Elizabeth Montgomery, Christina Ricci, Alison Fraser and Chloe Sevigny.

See What I Have Done is a debut novel by Australian writer, Sarah Schmidt. She has a blog that details her writing journey.

Hachette Australia will publish See What I Have Done in April 2017.

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