Every now and then I find a book that makes me decide I should just keep reading it until I’m finished. Writing Jane Austen (2010) by Elizabeth Aston didn’t start out that way, but somewhere around chapter 16, I stopped disliking the main character quite as much and the story felt like it was actually going somewhere. Actually, that kind of reminds me of the first time I read Mansfield Park.
Anyway, I had a lot of mixed feelings about this book-despite the fact that I read the last half of its 300 pages without stopping-but let’s get to it.
Historical writer Georgina is living in London through a fellowship with Oxford (I think that was it anyway, it wasn’t terribly important) and trying to write her second book. The first was a big success in literary circles, but didn’t sell particularly well. Her agent tells her that a chapter of an unfinished Jane Austen manuscript has been found and they want her to finish the novel. She has a hissy fit because it’s not her period and runs all over England trying to avoid her agent and publisher and trying to avoid actually reading any of Austen’s novels. Eventually, she capitulates and tries to write the book.
The more I think about the book, the less I like it. I’m okay with unlikely scenarios, but a writer who studies late 19th century England never reading even a single chapter of Austen? I understand reading it and finding that it’s not your style or simply not being a fan. I even understand not reading them all. But how do you end up never picking up a single book? How close-minded is this woman?
I haven’t read every well-known author out there by any means. But if someone offered me a great deal of money to write in the style of say, Charlotte Brontë, and I actually had the background to support the idea that I could do that, I would probably say yes and do my damnedest to succeed even though I’ve only ever read Jane Eyre and I wasn’t particularly fond of it.
There were points of the book where I felt like Aston was sort of attempting Austen’s style of writing. Occasionally it even worked. So those points were kind of cool.
5 Things I liked
- The main supporting characters. Maud, Henry, and Anna were all far more fascinating than Georgina. Without them, she would have been too much of a mess to make it through the book. Without them, there would have been no story.
- The overdone villains. I had trouble deciding if this should go here of in the didn’t like category, but in the end, Livia the agent and Vesey the publisher at least make things interesting when Georgina is being dull and whiny.
- Georgina’s hallucinations. I hate that there wasn’t really a point to them, but Georgina seeing people and events from the regency period was quite interesting.
- Walk-on characters. So many quirks! So much interesting (if useless) information!
- Discussion of the writing process. This isn’t overt, but a good chunk of the second half is dedicated to Georgina’s struggle to write the book, and so much of it was relateable and just spot on.
And 3 Things I didn’t
- Skipping over events. This is something that Austen tends to do to wrap up a subplot or show something that her point-of-view character wasn’t around to witness. It occasionally bothers me in Austen’s work, but it really annoyed me here. For one thing, Aston wasn’t using a single character point-of-view, so the main reason for doing it wasn’t there.
- The subplot of the Georgina/Henry/Sophie thing was not given nearly enough space. This is kind of a continuation of the first point. Hints about Sophie (Henry’s girlfriend who I guess is sort of a Mary Crawford character) pop up throughout the book, but the Henry/Georgina thing is just thrown in at the last moment. I agree it’s a satisfying way for things to end, but there’s absolutely no lead up to it!
- Georgina. After much debate, I did have to include her on my list of dislikes. She starts to redeem herself towards the end, but I really don’t think that it’s enough. It’s sad because the best part about this book in general is how amazing the characters are, but she just kind of sucked.
Ultimately, I think it’s a good book for Austen fans in particular, but it’s not really necessary to like her work. Then again, a lot of things I was able to forgive in this book were just because I saw where Aston was trying to emulate Jane Austen.
2.5/5. Maybe a 3 since it did keep me reading for nearly three hours straight.
So does anyone have any suggestions for something that I should read/review?