See What I Have Done brings to life the real murder case of Mr and Mrs Borden, who were famously brutally murdered by an axe in their own home in 19th Century America. No one has ever officially been imprisoned for the murders, but the imagination of the world believes the daughter, Lizzie Borden, to be the true killer. What this novel does is try to give life to what could have happened based on the original testimonies.
The novel is told from the point of view of three characters: Lizzie, youngest daughter of Mr Borden (Mrs Borden is their stepmother). She’s notorious, but how much does the world truly know about her as a person? Then there’s Emma, who is a devoted daughter and longs to move away from a controlling Lizzie. Finally there’s Benjamin who has a weird Strangers on a Train pact with the sister’s Uncle John. The use of multiple viewpoints is clever, because every chapter you think, ‘them, they definitely did it’, and you never know -that’s history, not a spoiler!
Lizzie’s voice is obviously the most interesting as she’s one of the most portrayed ‘killers’ in America. I’d been waiting for the paperback of this book to come out for ages because I really wanted to see how it had been done. Schmidt actually makes a very hazy case for Lizzie, and I mean that in the best possible way. I find myself making so many excuses for her – like the reason she acts so bizarrely is because of grief, and everyone knows how close grief and madness come when under pressure.
But the most interesting idea about Lizzie is she might actually have had learning difficulties. Schmidt doesn’t straight out make this point, and maybe she doesn’t make it at all, I just read it like that – but the way she clings to her sister, her temper, her love of her pigeons, and her perceived manipulations. Is there some misunderstood condition that made her seem guilty? As the novel progressed my thoughts about Lizzie being an unreliable narrator started to matter less, as I found myself getting bored and wanted the story to give more.
I have to admit that my mind started wandering about halfway through the book. It’s not that it wasn’t a good story, and its vagueness makes the narrative quite interesting, but I just didn’t care about what happened to any of the characters. I almost wish the book did draw some kind of conclusion of its own just so I had an proper ending to mull over. In the end I almost gave up, realising that I wasn’t going to get what I wanted, but I persevered. I have to say that it’s a good book, but I perhaps I overhyped it in my own mind. The case a Lizzie and her family is so interesting that I thought a dramatisation might be revealing but, I wasn’t sold.