The Long Arm of Jane Austen

First, a confession: I don’t love Jane Austen.

There, I’ve said it. I know I will get grief (or maybe stunned silence) from all the Austen fans out there. I can appreciate that she has had an amazing literary impact, was ahead and of her time and wrote women well while still admitting I just don’t get the appeal. I love the movies based on her novels but when I sit down and try to make my way through the language and manners, I just can’t do it.

So, it’s with some surprise that I realize I’ve read not one, but two novels recently that were based entirely on Pride and Prejudice. Not as surprising, I liked, but didn’t love, both.

LongbournLongbourn by Jo Baker

It says a lot about me that I didn’t know the Austen connection when I picked up this audiobook because of it’s gorgeous cover. It seemed many of my book-loving friends had been posting about this title. As I listened, the characters sounded familiar, but I never made the connection. I most certainly would have had a deeper appreciation of the story had I realized, but these were my impressions.

A good audio for those of us missing Downton Abbey — same time period, although almost entirely the “downstairs” perspective. It just went on too long. I wanted it to end long before it did. Also, in this case I think I would have preferred Sarah’s first person perspective — the 3rd person kept too much emotional distance between me and the characters. Still, an interesting period piece.

Longbourn is out in paperback this week and would make a good addition to any beach bag.

Death Comes to PemberlyDeath Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

If it weren’t for my monthly book club, I would never have chosen this title, but at least this time I knew what I was getting into. Still, not a complete winner for me.

This is a perfectly fine novel, maybe better than average for Jane Austen fans. Continuing the stories of characters made famous in Pride and Prejudice, P.D. James brings a murder to the Pemberley estate of Mr. & Mrs. Darcy.

I expected more of a who-done-it than I got. But I also didn’t expect to be as engaged as I was. I wish more of the story would have been about Elizabeth. In fact, I don’t think James ever settled on whose story this is. The focus changed often with many extraneous characters getting plot lines. It all felt a little scattered.

It almost seemed liked James was afraid of delving too deeply into Elizabeth or Jane or Lydia. Lydia, in fact, disappears for the entire second half of the book despite her husband’s central role, a fact I found very frustrating. This becomes very much a man’s story.

My Book Club wasn’t a fan of this book either. We met after I wrote my review and I found the Austen fans in the room (quite a few – no surprise) frustrated by the characterizations of their beloved characters.

Unfortunately, neither of these titles inspired me to go back and read the original work, but I can respect that Jane Austen’s influence continues to spark creativity from authors today.

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10 thoughts on “The Long Arm of Jane Austen

  1. We know that we differ on our attitudes towards Austen. But I’m with you on these books. Death Comes to Pemberly was fun – it was a different take on the Austen thing. But I wanted Longbourn to be so much better than it was. I didn’t love the characterization of my favourites in that book at all even if it was a really great look at what life must have been like for the domestics. And then it just ends and everything is great? No. Shame it didn’t make you want to delve into Austen at all though.

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  2. I might try Longbourne on audio — it’s a book I’m interested in, but not enough to spend paper book reading time on.

    Sorry to hear Death Comes to Pemberly was a let-down! I don’t think it would be the right book for me, either.

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    • Thank you Cathy! I have to let go of my guilt on this topic. (But I also have to acknowledge it’s a little hole in my literary wisdom — she’s influenced a lot of writers I love.)

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