Author: Kate Belle
Simon & Schuster RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
Written with keen insight, Being Jade is a beautiful and complex novel that will challenge readers to examine their hearts and true self. Both a love story (albeit an unconventional one) and a story about being true to oneself, the novel awakens questions about morality, living authentically and the nature of love in all its guises. These are questions that apply to each of us, begging us to examine what these things mean to us.
The easy way to describe Being Jade is this: after 25 years of loving his wife despite repeated infidelity, Banjo finally walks away, only to be killed in a tragic accident. His spiritual form watches as Jade falls into depression and his daughters struggle to make sense of their loss and the revelations of their mother’s adultery. Such a simplistic overview does the novel a disservice because Being Jade is so much more than that.
First of all, it’s about unconditional love, shown primarily through the character of Banjo, a man who struggles with his wife’s actions throughout their marriage, but chooses to stay. Why? Good question and I doubt my response will satisfy all readers. In his physical existence, Banjo put up with a lot, and his love for Jade outweighed his desire for her fidelity, but his death led him to a different understanding: Jade was simply living her life authentically for her. It seemed to me that in life, Banjo was prepared to sacrifice his own self, the being Banjo, for Jade. That’s why he chose to stay. That’s huge. Is it right? Some will say that by accepting Jade’s actions, Banjo chose a pathway of hurt therefore he was responsible for his hurt, not Jade. That’s a discussion I had during and after the reading of this book. Again, a question for which there is no easy answer, but I’m not sure Kate Belle wanted there to be answers for everything.
Being Jade is also a story about a woman who won’t compromise herself. Not for anyone. She is who she is. She knows many won’t get her, but she doesn’t allow that to determine how she lives, even though it’s not an easy path. There are consequences to Jade’s choices – misunderstanding from others, judgement from others, and so on. As a reader, I was guilty of that. I found myself unhappy with Jade’s actions many times throughout the novel; often I identified with her daughter Cassy, even when I didn’t want to. Unlike Jade, most of us are not completely true to ourselves. I’m not talking sexually, I mean in every way. Most of us hide aspects of ourselves, fearful of what others will think. The thing about Jade is while she is uncompromising of her integrity, she accepts others for who they are, warts and all, and this is why the men in her life are drawn to her.
So, was Jade’s love for Banjo unconditional? Yet another hard question without a definitive answer. Certainly she accepted Banjo and she loved Banjo, but it seemed clear that if he could not accept her, then she would not stay with him. Depending on my mood, I can see this two ways – her love is conditional love (accept me as I am or I’ll go), or it’s unconditional because she loved him enough to set him free if that was what he needed to be Banjo (accept me as I am or I will free you to leave – but I will still be me). The second explanation works with the whole theme of authenticity – but deep down I don’t think Banjo would ever have been completely free of Jade and therefore able to be without her, and I think Jade knew that. Ultimately, she wasn’t going to sacrifice her self for Banjo.
The choice of the novel’s name stood out for me as well because it highlighted some of the deeper themes of the book. Jade, the stone, means purity in China (note the Asian model on the cover and there is another Chinese connection that becomes obvious later). Is Jade, the character, pure? If you consider her adulterous behaviour, no, most would say not. However, as Belle pointed out, Jade is purely herself, true to her womanhood. She also took it a step further and said, “jade is a name given to a women’s vagina in sacred sexual practice of Tao – Jade Gate”. Interesting. Even the title invites discussion.
Being Jade mirrors real life by reminding readers that there are two sides to every story … and many different interpretations. Belle has conveyed this in a clever and thought-provoking manner; not only are there no simple answers to the moral dilemmas she poses, but as the story develops, assumptions and allegiances are challenged. There’s an underlying message there for people not to censor who they are, and for greater acceptance of other’s choices.
What I loved about this book was the way it made me think … and question … and re-think. It didn’t change my mind on some of the things I felt were right or wrong, but I loved the discussion and thought this book provoked throughout the whole reading experience. Questions like, is it more moral to live authentically or to live as society dictates? Or, setting aside the romance of unconditional love, was Banjo just co-dependent, and the two caught in the trap of a co-dependent relationship? To me, such questions are the mark of a great book. You don’t want to put it down and forget about it … you want to talk about it.
Available from good bookstores. My copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.
Bookish treat: I couldn’t eat … I was too busy reading.