I received a free copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
Star Rating: ★★★★✰
Based on a true story, Sarah Schmidt’s debut novel See What I Have Done tells the story of the murders of Andrew and Abbey Borden in 1892. On the morning of 4th August 1892 Lizzie Borden shouts to her maid, Bridget, that someone has killed her father in a horrific attack. The police are called and the body of her stepmother is also found in a bedroom upstairs.
There is no evidence as to who could have committed these atrocious crimes, but Lizzie’s behaviour sparks some interest in the police. Could she really be behind the murders? Or was it Bridget, angry at Abbey for hindering her plans to go home to Ireland? Or perhaps it had something to do with the appearance of Lizzie’s uncle and the mysterious stranger he has brought with him.
See What I Have Done blends fact and fiction to give an in depth look at one of history’s most talked about murder cases. Although, much to the dismay of my true-crime obsessed mother, I didn’t know much about Lizzie Borden before reading this book. I’m glad of this in a way as it meant I had no expectations and was able to immerse myself in the story completely without thinking about the facts.
I didn’t get into the story straight away, however. Lizzie was a jarring character as I wasn’t sure how old she was supposed to be at first. Her behaviour and way of thinking were very childlike so I thought she was just that, a child, for the first few pages. It wasn’t until it was mentioned that she was a Sunday School teacher and in her thirties that I realised I was wrong. I guess this could have been a conscious effort on the part of the writer to make the reader see Lizzie’s unusual mind-frame, but it took me a little while to get it all straight in my head.
Once you get to know Lizzie however, her childlike mindset becomes a lot more unsettling. It’s unclear whether she is aware just how naïve she comes across, but she more than likely is as she is obviously very manipulative. Her thought process after she discovers her father’s body is definitely not what you would expect from a grieving daughter. She is more concerned with looking at the bodies and the pile of vomit in the corner than she is about who could have committed the murders.
Her relationship with her sister, Emma, is disconcerting as well. As we find out more about their past we see that Lizzie is most manipulative of her and everything she does seems to hinge on her trying to make sure Emma doesn’t leave her, despite Emma wanting nothing more than to leave the Borden house to live a life of her own. She is one of the characters I actually felt sympathy for as she is forced into every aspect of her life because of Lizzie.
The story is told from 4 different perspectives: Lizzie, Emma, the maid Bridget, and a stranger named Benjamin who is being paid by the girls’ uncle to convince their father to treat them better. This way of storytelling always has the possibility to be difficult to follow if not done right, but fortunately, Schmidt does it perfectly. Each character has a unique voice so you always know exactly who it is that’s speaking.
Her skills are even more evident in the way she uses the senses throughout the book. The claustrophobia of the Borden house is illuminated in the heat of the summer, the descriptions of the sloppy food, the sickness throughout the house. It all culminates in an oppressive atmosphere that serves to heighten the tension that already exists between all the family members.
See What I Have Done is a wonderfully written take on the Lizzie Borden story. It made me curious to find out more about the true details of the Borden family, and when a book can make you care about the story enough that you want to find out more, then you know it’s done something right.
See What I Have Done is out on 1st August 2017