Jamaica, sometime soon after the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.
Antoinette is the daughter of a plantation owner, now dead. She lives with her young mother Annette and disabled brother Pierre on Coulibri, their plantation estate. Without slaves to work it, Coulibri is slowly turning wild, and her family no longer receive white visitors from the nearby capital, Spanish Town. Her mother’s only friend, the next door plantation owner, commits suicide. Marooned from white civilisation and clearly destitute, they are equally rejected by the black Jamaicans: only a few former slaves remain to work in the household; their horse is poisoned; and Antoinette is insulted by the black children. Her mother also rejects her, favouring her younger brother. A solitary child, she seems to connect most profoundly with the wild tropical landscape that surrounds her. Her only friend is Tia, a black girl who steals her few pennies and only dress, and Christophine, her nurse.
But Annette’s luck has changed: a family from England have come to take over the neighbouring estate, and they bring with them the rich, single Mr Mason. Soon Annette is remarried, and the family’s material fortunes improve. But this only increases resentment of them within the community, culminating in an arson attack on Coulibri which leaves Pierre dead and Annette driven mad by grief. Antoinette is dispatched to a convent for her schooling; her mother is sent away and later dies.
Antoinette’s relative calm within the convent is disturbed by a visit from Mr Mason, who proposes to reintroduce her back into society: he has some English friends coming to stay. Antoinette is filled with foreboding, and dreams a dream from childhood: she is following a strange, hate-filled man towards entrapment.
Suddenly the story leaps to a new island and a new narrator. A leap in time too, we later find out, as it is revealed that the new narrator is Antoinette’s husband (Mr Rochester as he will become in Jane Eyre, although he is never named here). Her stepfather is dead, and the couple are honeymooning on her mother’s old estate after their arranged marriage. They hardly know each other, and while Antoinette seems happy in the place she loves she is, as she was as a child, highly emotional and an awkward communicator, drawn towards the fatalistic. Her husband, an Englishman who has gained a great deal of money by the match, clearly desires her, but finds her strange and difficult to understand, and the landscape and people of this new world overwhelming.
When a letter arrives from Antoinette’s mixed race half-brother detailing Annette's madness, supposedly inherited by the daughter, her husband believes he has found the answers to all those questions about Antoinette that he cannot understand. As the relationship falls apart, Antoinette becomes increasingly desperate to keep hold of her husband, making him even more certain she is mad. Despite Christophine’s efforts to help Antoinette escape the marriage, Rochester takes her back to England with him, a mad woman, or so he believes.
Another narrative jump takes the text into Jane Eyre. Antoinette is now the madwoman in the attic, imprisoned in Thornfield Hall. Completely disconnected from the reality that surrounds her, she cannot remember attacking her stepbrother, who came to visit her, nor does she believe that she is actually in England. She is lost to reminiscences of the Caribbean, and of her mixed race cousin, with whom she is supposed to have had a relationship. Antoinette dreams a dream of fire, and of jumping from the battlements of the hall into her past life. Her old home of Coulibri, her friend Tia, even her old parrot, call to her. Now she knows what she has to do...