Saturday, April 10, 2010

Review: Writing Jane Austen by Elizabeth Aston

Saying the name "Jane Austen" elicits powerful reactions in people. Some dismiss her novels out-of-hand as being nothing more than stories about the idle rich whose sole interest was seeking a marital partner with a largest estate possible, while others rave about her timelessness in creating rich characters and complex plots steeped in irony.

Love 'em or hate 'em, Jane Austen's works are popular. A sign of that popularity is that her novel Pride and Prejudice ranks among the top ten free downloads on Apples iPad. (One benefit of ereaders is that you can get the works that have passed into the public domain for free.)

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I am not a big fan of Jane Austen, I have read only two of her novels. I finished re-reading Pride and Prejudice on my shiny iPad before writing this review.

One of the things that I dislike in Austen's literary style is the telling/showing ratio. Today's market forces makes authors show feelings and emotions more in action as well as dialogue and not have it explicitly told to us in the narrative. Similarly, Austen's use of dialogue many times involved mini speeches that are paragraphs in length rather than today's shorter bursts of back and forth verbal volleys.

I have not blogged about Jane Austen before, so I was a bit surprised to be sent a review copy of Writing Jane Austen, but the cover looked interesting so I decided to give a chance.

Elizabeth Aston has written six novels set within Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy universe. Her latest novel, Writing Jane Austen is set in 21st century Britain and features a young female protagonist who is an award winning and critically acclaimed author named Georgina Jackson. Georgina's debut novel while celebrated in literary circles did not sell very well at all. She is also in a writing slump and cannot get past the first chapter of her second novel. Forty eight different versions of chapter one to be exact.

It is at this point she is presented with the opportunity of a lifetime: to finish a recently discovered uncompleted novel by Jane Austen.

Georgina is horrified because she has never read anything by Jane Austen and has never wanted to. She also is intimidated because she knows that Jane Austen has fervent, rabid fans. How could anyone try and imitate the literary style of Jane Austen? That would be impossible. It certainly could not be done in three months time which is what her shrew/harpy of an agent and her publisher give her.

Georgina hesitates, but a financial crisis forces her to take up this Literary Call to Adventure.

I found the novel to be a light, breezy read that is laugh out loud funny. Georgina's literary agent, Livia Harkness, explodes off the page as someone I would never want to meet in real life.

Aston shows how Jane Austen's works are continuing to have an impact: from academic treatises to themed tours of the city of Bath to trinkets. Almost as if her fans are making a pilgrimage to sacred sites and the venerating of saints' relics.

The story is has a delightfully quirky tone and shows the stresses of pressure put on someone to create magic with the written word.

I think fans of Jane Austen will find many Easter Eggs hidden within the text. I recognized a character insertion of Miss Bates from Emma and feel that there are probably more such delights to be discovered by "Janeites." Those who are not big fans of Austen will also enjoy the novel.

Overall, I recommend this book. This would be a good summer beach read.

Tomorrow I will post an interview with the author as well as give details about my first ever contest. I will be giving away a few copies of the book Writing Jane Austen.

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