See What I Have Done Sarah Schmidt
See What I Have Done is the debut novel of Australian author Sarah Schmidt about the famous axe murders in 1892 at Massachusetts, USA. It was famously thought to have been committed by the victims’ daughter, Lizzie Borden. Lizzie was acquitted but remains to be the prime suspect even after her death — everyone is convinced she was the murderer, and it remains a subject of speculation more than a century after the events.
Sarah was inspired to tell write a book about this more than a decade ago from a pamphlet she found at a secondhand bookshop. She tells more of that story here, if you fancy having a read. If you’ve read any of her interviews or been to any of her talks, you would be familiar with the anecdote about Sarah staying in the Borden house as part of her research.
Creepy, eh? But I guess that is why the book does so well at putting us right there as an invisible witness to the goings-on within the household. The novel was very atmospheric — I read it whilst the weather was in the middle of changing from autumn to winter but I could see and feel myself being in that house with the perception of claustrophobia and the sticky heat hovering closely over of my skin.
I had no prior knowledge of the Borden murders or that famous rhyme relating to it. I did a quick Google and skimmed through Wikipedia which provided the basic details of it — Lizzie, the daughter, was the prime suspect but was acquitted. There are many theories floating around attempting to prove both sides of the argument but I didn’t really want to know.
However, the book kept my interest because I wanted to see how the author was going to paint and lead the story to its famous conclusion.
Was Sarah going to defend Lizzie? The father was definitely quite hard on his family; I could see why they would want to rebel and just be free and rid of him! But Lizzie also came off as somewhat with a narcissistic personality — she was manipulative of her sister and, to some extent, her father. She wanted things to go her way and have first dibs on the best things available to her and her sister. I even thought she might be a little on the autism spectrum, in that she did not seem to think about the emotional effects of what she says or does to other people.
In the end, See What I Have Done doesn’t outrightly tell you who was the murderer. Okay, it could have been Lizzie Borden, but the book felt more of a study of characters and how their relationships and interactions with each other created such a toxic environment. Could it be the reason that drove Lizzie to murder? Was Mr Borden’s severe manner also a driving force? What is Lizzie like as a person, and could she really be someone who can commit such a crime? Who are the other people in that household and how did they think and participate in the overall family dynamics?
I know, so many unresolved questions! But it’s nice to have a book that does not spoonfeed you the ending and influence how you should feel about it. Some introspection, guided by the issues and conundrums the book has presented, could help a person learn more about themselves. I use it to examine any ingrained biases I may have, and think of how I could challenge my way of thinking.
It has now been a month later after its publication in the UK, and See What I Have Done has been praised for its evocative way of putting its reader in the Borden house. I agree that it does it very well but I also found the character relationships intriguing!
I managed to devour this book in two days, mostly during my brief commute to work. It managed to take me away from the annoyingly packed train carriage during rush hour. I would sometimes have to blink away the image of that pear tree as I jostle past people at the end of my tube journey. See how it works for you when you’re sitting on a beach, maybe? 😉
see ratings explanation
“I could tell the officer all of this because it was the truth. All of this happened in the house at some stage. Should it matter when it happened?”
– Sarah Schmidt, See What I Have Done
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What are the best atmospheric books you’ve read?
See What I Have Done Sarah Schmidt
Many thanks to Headline Publicity Queen Georgina for letting me have an advanced copy of the book! Apologies for not being able to contribute during the release! See What I Have Done Sarah Schmidt