Sarah Schmidt – See What I have Done


Book 10 out of the 16 books longlisted for The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018.

Lizzie Borden Took an axe

And gave her mother forty whacks

When she saw what she had done

She gave her father forty-one

Thus is the famous nursery rhyme Sarah Schmidt’s book is based on. Except now I know that there’s much more to this peculiar crime in this rather fascinating novel.

Without going into too much detail, both Andrew Borden and his second wife Abby Borden were killed by an axe on the 4th August 1882. As such all evidence leads to Lizzie, mainly due to the hatred she had for her parents, she was the only one close to them in the house and her version of events changed, yet physical evidence was lacking other than the fact that the day before the murders the whole household was sick, except for Lizzie and even then the meal did not have any traces of poison on it.

Schmidt details this through the perspectives of four people: Lizzie herself, her elder sister Emma, the family maid, Bridget and an additional character, Benjamin. What comes out of the book is not a whodunnit,as the case was rather strange in itself, rather I saw it as a portrait of a dysfunctional family: Mr. Borden comes off as an abuser, the step mother as suspicious, Lizzie seems mentally disturbed and Emma as the martyr. These observations come from Bridget . In other words because the Bordens are so strange, a double murder such as this one should not come as a surprise.

See What I Have Done is a novel filled with rich descriptions. You can smell the food, both good and bad. See the blood splashing on the sheets, hear the noises that the Bordens house makes. This is a novel that evokes the senses and Schmidt makes sure that you are part of the Bordens whether you like it or not. Also Schmidt inserts a Gothic vibe in the text, which reminded me of Shirley Jackson at times.

Maybe I am biased because I do like books that are creepy but I Schmidt’s novel is an excellent book as it also tackles an interesting piece of history and makes it, well, not fun, but rather lively.

Other reviews of the Women’s Prize Long list:

Nicola Barker – H(A)PPY

Rachel Seiffert – A Boy in Winter

Jessie Greengrass – Sight

Gail Honeyman – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Jesmyn Ward – Sing, Unburied, Sing.

Kamila Shamsie – Home Fire

Arundhati Roy – The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Fiona Mozley – Elmet 

Meena Kandasamy – When I hit You