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Our Book of the Week: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

April 4, 2017

9780733636882-minWhy we loved it: Any Australian who hasn’t yet heard about one of America’s most well-known historical ‘murderers’ will soon become familiar with Lizzie Borden after reading this much praised debut by Australian author Sarah Schmidt. Murderer is in quote marks because Lizzie Borden was acquitted of the 1892 murder of her father and stepmother, but she was arrested and tried, and endures in folklore as the murderer of her father and stepmother, even spawning the famous rhyme:

Lizzie Borden took an axe

And gave her mother forty whacks.

When she saw what she had done,

She gave her father forty-one.

See What I have Done is the breathtaking fictional account of this murder, a mysterious unsolved case in the popular imagination. If you love crime and historical fiction then this is most definitely a must-read, and yet it’s also a beautiful work of literary fiction.

Schmidt takes on the story with incisive prose that evokes the day of the murders, and the preceding days, with immediacy and intimacy. You can almost feel you are there, such are her vivid and bright descriptions of the smells and heat of these summer days when two gruesome murders were committed.

This evocative language conjures a place in a Massachusetts town some one hundred years ago, setting the scene in chilling detail. It was 4th August 1892 when locally respected businessman Andrew Borden and his second wife, the stepmother of his children, were murdered at their home in Fall River. Through the eyes of the unreliable narrator Lizzie, her sister Emma, who was staying with a relative at the time of the murders, the Irish housemaid Bridget, and a stranger making his way to Fall River, the reader navigates the crime scene and the lead-up to the murders.

It’s an unusual and haunting telling of a real-life murder that gets right under your skin. It’s eerie but also fascinating, with thorough research and new perspective on an old crime. Bridget, the poor Irish housemaid, reveals much about what really went on in the Borden household, the strangeness of the sisters and their odd relationship with their father and stepmother, offering a brand new take on an enduring mystery.rsz_sarah_schmidt

See What I have Done is proving to be one of the most anticipated novels of this year, with mighty praise already in from some high quarters including:

‘Eerie and compelling, Sarah Schmidt breathes such life into the terrible, twisted tale of Lizzie Borden and her family, she makes it impossible to look away.’ – Paula Hawkins, of The Girl on the Train

‘Haunting, evocative and psychologically taut, See What I Have Done breathes fresh life into the infamous 19th-century murder case surrounding Lizzie Borden. This is a powerful, beautifully researched debut novel that brings us into contact with the recurring American dramas of violence and retribution while summoning the beguiling voices of the past.’ – Dominic Smith, author of the NEW YORK TIMES bestseller THE LAST PAINTING OF SARA DE VOS.

After completing a Bachelor of Arts (Professional writing and editing), a Master of Arts (Creative Writing), and a Graduate Diploma of Information Management, Sarah currently works as a Reading & Literacy Coordinator (read: a fancy librarian) at a regional public library. She lives in Melbourne with her partner and daughter. See What I Have Done is her first novel.


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