In the summer of 1892, Andrew Borden and his second wife, Abby, were viciously murdered in their Fall River home with an axe. Andrew’s daughter, Elizabeth (Lizzie), was tried for the murders but later acquitted.
See What I Have Done by debut author Sarah Schmidt is a fictional retelling of those infamous murders. This account focuses on the events leading up to the deaths of Lizzie Borden’s father and stepmother, in particular, the days before and after the murders. The narrative is presented through the eyes of four characters — Lizzie Borden; Lizzie’s sister, Emma, who at the time of the murders was out of town; the young Irish maid, Bridget; and a damaged stranger called Benjamin.
This book gets deep under your skin, like a splinter driven under your nails that you can’t pull out. It is creepy and disturbing, unsettling and sinister.
‘…noticed tiny droplets of blood sitting on my fingers. I put them to my nose then my mouth. I licked, tasted Father, tasted myself.’
The setting is vivid. Throughout, I felt oppressed by heat, viscerally disgusted by rancid food and sickness, and mired in the oppression and dysfunction of the situation.
Schmidt does a remarkable job of curving her words to reveal the depths of the twisted relationships within this terrible tale. The malignant relationship between Emma and Lizzie is magnificently portrayed. She creates tension and grips you within for long periods of time. Her Lizzie chapters are especially powerful and pick, pick, pick at your emotions. A master of time, Schmidt will slow it down so you experience every shocking second, speed it up so you strain and push to keep up and fracture it to leave you confused and unsettled.
‘The clock on the mantel ticked ticked’.
I liked how I was left guessing as to the implied identity of the murderer, swinging back and forth between suspects, up until the last quarter of the book. The start in particular was compelling and drew me in; the middle so electrifying, I couldn’t put it down. My only disappointment was that I felt the ending was a little drawn out. This was possibly done to tie all loose ends, but with a book like this, it might have been better to leave the ends frayed.
See What I Have Done is a marvellously written thriller and a chilling take on the infamous, unsolved Borden murders. Well worth a read – but prepare to be disturbed.