The Big Idea: Caitlin Starling

Cover to "The Death of Jane Lawrence."

There’s a central, motivating emotion at the heart of The Death of Jane Lawrence, and despite what the title may imply, that emotion is not “fear.” No, it’s something that, under the correct set of conditions, can be much worse. Here’s author Caitlin Starling to reveal and explain.


The Death of Jane Lawrence is a book about shame.

The shame of not fitting neatly into society. The shame of losing a patient who might have been saved, if you’d only been faster, more clever, more ruthless. The shame of surviving a devastating attack which claimed the lives of many more. The shame of making decisions from a place of perceived strength and mastery, only to realize that all the strength and mastery in the world can’t cheat death.

There’s a difference, you know, between shame and guilt. Guilt is over something you have done; shame is over something that you are.

Shame is heavy. It collapses. It constrains. It suffocates.

Shame is the cornerstone of gothic horror; secrets are its mortar. Shame doesn’t require secrecy, but it thrives in its embrace. Shame begets secrets to hide the source of that shame, and secrets create shames of their own, hidden things that must not be mentioned – or what will the neighbors think?

(It is both very challenging and very easy to write about shame. We’ve all felt it. Sometimes it feels like my life is governed by it. It’s familiar and raw, and putting it on display, even through the lens of fiction, feels like being flayed alive.)

From the beginning of the book, Jane knows she’s strange. She sees and moves through the world differently. She’s the adult ward of two friends of her long-dead parents, reliant on them for her survival. When at last she decides to marry, she does so out of the crushing conviction that she is, and always has been, a burden.

The man she courts doesn’t see her that way. But he coaxes something else out in her: a revelation of her capacity for coldness, her desire for control over everything and everybody around her. She sees in herself a monster, either born fully formed or forged in the wreckage of a city she barely remembers, in the deaths of parents she blames herself for having survived.

And her husband? The dashing, compassionate surgeon willing to go heroic lengths to save his patients? He carries his own humiliations, his own dark stumblings. A doctor is not a god, after all; he has a body count of his own, of those he failed to save, and those his interventions likely killed. Those he has lost cling to him relentlessly.

And then there are his private shames. A woman buried in haste two years ago. A crumbling manor outside of town. A cellar with four heavy locks. There are rules: Jane must not visit Lindridge Hall. Jane must never spend the night there.

And Augustine must always return.

But when they wed, despite their best efforts at strictly defining the path of their life together, the careful winding between dark holes in the floors of their selves, they begin to mix. To blur. The paths wander off, the walls come down. His secrets become hers, staining her life before she even knows what horrors they hide. And her shame, when planted in the wreck of Lindridge Hall, flourishes. It threatens to tear her apart.

And something in the rooms of Lindridge Hall is hungry for all of it.

The Death of Jane Lawrence: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.

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