“Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.”
I’d never heard of Lizzie Borden before I read about this book. The topic instantly grabbed me, and I knew I had to have it. I was crossing my fingers every time I searched for it on NetGalley, and, lo and behold, it came up. And I was approved!
When her father and step-mother are found brutally murdered on a summer morning in 1892, Lizzie Borden – thirty two years old and still living at home – immediately becomes a suspect. But after a notorious trial, she is found innocent, and no one is ever convicted of the crime.
Meanwhile, others in the claustrophobic Borden household have their own motives and their own stories to tell: Lizzie’s unmarried older sister, a put-upon Irish housemaid, and a boy hired by Lizzie’s uncle to take care of a problem.
This unforgettable debut makes you question the truth behind one of the great unsolved mysteries, as well as exploring power, violence and the harsh realities of being a woman in late nineteenth century America.
I love a good historical fiction, particularly one based on a true story. Lizzie Borden is famous (or infamous) for being acquitted for the murders of her father and step-mother in 1892. Told from the perspectives of Bridget the maid, a troubled young man called Benjamin, Emma the eldest daughter, and Lizzie herself, we’re thrown into a whirlwind of a whodunit.
There’s clearly something very strange about the Borden family. Lizzie is in her thirties, Emma in her forties, and neither of them have ever married or moved away from their childhood home. Emma, the eldest, gave up a large part of her life to care for Lizzie, when they were left motherless after their mum died. Their father married Abby a few years later, and it seems the sisters made a decision to never love their stepmother.
There are also clear signs of abuse. Andrew Borden is often violent and quick to anger, and Lizzie too has a fiery temper. Emma has escaped to her friend’s house when the murders occur, and is dragged back by the tragedy. You can almost feel her desperation to cling on to her freedom. It’s Emma who I identify with the most: the eldest daughter, older by a fair few years, forced to give up childhood and become a parental figure.
See What I Have Done is full of secrets, and Schmidt doesn’t give them up easily. This is a triumphant debut, wonderfully written and well-researched (Schmidt stayed in the Borden house while writing this book, which is actually now a creepy hotel!). Lizzie Borden dug her claws into me and didn’t let go until the very final page.
See What I Have Done is due out in May 2017, and you really don’t want to miss it.