I’ve always been intrigued by the Lizzie Borden murders so I was looking forward to this novel. I really enjoyed it and found the very descriptive language helped paint a vivid picture of what everything may have looked like.

Schmidt pads out a well-worn story with intimate detail, shining light on the supposed jealousy between Lizzie and her sister, Emma – and the controlling hand of their father, Andrew. We learn more from Bridget the maid’s POV as she works under the lady of the house, the girls’ stepmother Abby. And then there’s John, the dodgy uncle who shows up unexpectedly one day with a nefarious plan.

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

Just after 11am on 4th August 1892, the bodies of Andrew and Abby Borden are discovered. He’s found on the sitting room sofa, she upstairs on the bedroom floor, both murdered with an axe.

It is younger daughter Lizzie who is first on the scene, so it is Lizzie who the police first question, but there are others in the household with stories to tell: older sister Emma, Irish maid Bridget, the girls’ Uncle John, and a boy who knows more than anyone realises.

While certain creative liberties are taken, namely the addition of Benjamin, it’s clear his presence is designed to view the curious behaviour of the Bordens through fresh eyes – and it works. As he sneaks about observing from afar we’re treated to his thoughts on Lizzie’s oddness and Andrew’s harsh treatment of his daughter.

I just love how macabre this book is, describing the aftermath of the killings in fine and matter of fact detail. Everything is ever so slightly grimy and I love that I can almost smell it.

The description of the pears, plucked many times from the tree in the garden by multiple characters is especially evocative. While the home seems to be a waxy version of a grander time, even though the family are one of the wealthiest in the neighbourhood.

I don’t know how close to true these depictions are but the sequence of events seem more or less accurate. Lizzie is painted far less adult than I’ve ever seen her before. In all but this novel she’s been presented as quite the sexy minx and I guess that’s just showbiz for you (or a reflection of the kind of shit I watch/read).

I find this version of her far easier to understand somehow, though I can’t sympathise with her – she’s pretty awful.

I recommend picking this one up if you have even a passing interest in one of the most notorious murders in history – or feel like learning more. While this is a work of fiction, it doesn’t exaggerate the murders themselves which were brutal in their intensity.

“Lizzie Borden took an axe, and gave her mother 40 whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41 …”

5/5

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