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Sarah Schmidt Books In Order

Publication Order of Standalone Novels

See What I Have Done (2017) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Sarah Schmidt is an Australian writer best known for her crime novel “See What I Have Done.” Sarah holds a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing and Editing and a Graduate Diploma in Information Management. She works as a Reading and Literacy Coordinator at a Melbourne public library. She lives in Melbourne with her partner and daughter.

The story reimagines a true murder case from August 1892 in which Lizzie Borden was accused of killing Andrew and Abby Borden, her father and stepmother respectively, in gruesome fashion. The case has remained unsolved for more than a century, after Lizzie was acquitted of the murder. The murder, which Lizzie is believed to have orchestrated using a hatchet has continued to fascinate people across the United States. Several books, short stories, a TV series and even a film have been based on the mysterious crime. The house in Fall River, Massachusetts in which the killing occurred has been converted into a museum-cum-bed and breakfast, and the room where the two were killed is the most popular among guests. Sarah’s obsession with the case began when she accidentally came across a pamphlet about Lizzie’s heinous crime at a secondhand book store. That night, according to Sarah, she had a dream about Lizzie, in which she told her the reason she had murdered her parents. The dream repeated itself for a week, and Sarah decided to write down what had been revealed in the dream in the hope that it would end. It would take her 11 years to chronicle what would become one of the most profound debut novels for a writer. During that time she dedicated all her free time to the project, researching thoroughly on all aspects and even staying several nights at the Borden house.

Over the years, many theories have emerged about the actual sequence of events and motivations relating to the murders. In “See What I Have Done,” Sarah tells the story through four characters: Lizzie, Emma who is Lizzie’s older sister, their maid Bridget, and Benjamin, an acquaintance of their maternal uncle named John. At the time of the murder, Lizzie was a 30 year old spinster frustrated with being stuck at her father’s home. Her father is presented as a miserly and self-absorbed man with whom Lizzie has a cold relationship. Sarah’s novel does not seek to provide an alternative theory of the events but to immerse the reader into the circumstances surrounding the killings in a way that no account had done before. She presents an intricate web of emotions, all aligned along a thin line between love and hate. The relationship between Emma and Lizzie is central to Sarah’s novel, with the author attributing Emma’s leaving as the beginning of Lizzie’s downward emotional spiral. Emma had grown impatient over the suffocating demands from her younger sister, leaving to stay with a friend. According to Emma’s reimagined account of events, Lizzie would demand that the door between their rooms remain open, and she felt like Lizzie was possessing her. As the girls grow into mature women under the yoke of their contemptuous and controlling father, they also develop contempt for their once beloved step mother. The house turns into a cold, loveless abyss where everyone harbors contempt for each other. Bridget, the maid, finds herself stuck in the middle with Abby having hidden her savings tin. Abby constantly abuses and punches Bridget, in what Sarah Schmidt conceives as an outlet for her frustrations.

The backstory of the novel is as vivid as Sarah’s account of the actual day of the murder. Everyone in the household harbors hostile and disturbing thoughts towards the others but not more so than Lizzie. In Lizzie’s mind, she wonders what the others look like on the inside; she craves to see the brain matter and eye jelly of Mr. and Mrs. Borden. The morbid, almost gothic thoughts portray the qualities of an unstable character whose rage is bound to implode into an unimaginable and truly gory tragedy. Yet, Sarah leaves a degree of ambiguity around the identity of the killer. The dark, mysteriously conniving character of Benjamin seems to be inserted to leave open the possibility that another person might have killed Andrew and Abbie, or stoked Lizzie into the crime. The other characters Emma and Bridget are not themselves exonerable, going by Sarah’s account of their own scary thoughts and circumstances.

“See What I Have Done” is a gripping and intense read which is testament to what a talent Sarah Schmidt is. The most discernible gift is her descriptive ability, which yields an incredibly vivid imagery of the Borden house. The reader can experience the character’s every emotion, almost smell what the character smelled. She gets the reader lost in the events of the narrative thanks to her detailed description of every action and sensation of the characters. She avoids simplistic construction of her characters going instead for complicated and conflicting sides to every character. Lizzie for example is self-centered and uncouth but she also displays a gentle and kind side to her. This ability to infuse different personalities into one individual contribute to the realism of characters and facilitate the evolution of narration. It is definitely one of the qualities that differentiate truly prolific writers from average writers. Sarah confesses to the use of personal experiences and interactions in her characterization in the novel. This partly explains her potent construction of relatable characters and experiences, and it is one of the most valuable hacks for a writer. For readers who pick up the book with closure on the Borden murders in mind, this might admittedly be a disappointment in this regards. In pursuit of fidelity to actual case facts, Sarah aptly leaves a degree of uncertainty, carefully dodging presumptive explanations. Nevertheless, it is a greatly satisfying read which produces greater insight into the happenings in the Borden house, being a product of intensive research. This book was a potent stamp for Sarah Schmidt, with which to announce her arrival on the literary scene, and leaves the reader hungering for more of her provocatively good literary serving.

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