So a bit of a strange week in reading. I really enjoyed Alexa Martin’s Blitzed – but I gave a rave to Intercepted in May last year, so it’s inside my statute of limitations for repeats really. There were a few things that I really didn’t like and a few more that I was a bit ho-hum about. But I also finished Miss Austen – which I wrote about in my 2020 preview post, so I thought I ought to revisit it now I have some thoughts.
So, the plot: in 1840 Jane Austen’s sister Cassandra goes to stay with the family of her long dead fiancé, in a quest to find a cache of letters sent by her sister. It’s 20 years since Jane died, and Cassandra sees herself as the guardian of her sister’s legacy and image. What is in those letters – and what damage could they do to the picture that Cassandra has carefully nurtured of her sister? The story jumps backwards and forwards between the present day – where Cassandra is an unexpected (and not altogether welcome) visitor in a household in turmoil and Cassandra’s past with Jane, where her future looked to be going down a different path.
As I said in my 2020 preview, I will always take a second look at an Austen-related book. Some of them work better for me than others – I loved Death Comes to Pemberley and still regularly recommend Eligible, but couldn’t stand Pemberley and didn’t even finish Longbourne. This is billed as the untold story of the most important person in Jane’s life and that was the hook that drew me in. I finished it nearly a week ago and I’m still trying to decide what I thought of it. I liked the writing style and it has some really witty moments – both in the Jane and Cassandra timeline and in the Cassandra and the Fowle’s timeline. I’m not enough of an Austen scholar to be able to pick holes in the accuracy – which is probably a good thing for my enjoyment. But I’m still not sure what it was trying to do – things happened, but I think it petered out a bit at the end. Several people have asked me about it and I’ve struggled to articulate what exactly the problem was. Thinking about it now, I think that it maybe that the plot is sold as being about the hunt for the letters, but actually when you’re reading it that isn’t as central to the action as you expect. But I did enjoy it – Cassandra’s time as an old, meddling house guest is fun – as is her sparring with the maid. Cassandra and Jane’s relationship with their sister-in-law Mary is fun – as Mary insists that her husband was the better writer, and the sisters wonder if she will spot herself in Jane’s work. There are some other interesting characters though and Jane and Cassandra feel very real and true.
It feels strange to pick it as a BotW in a way, because this isn’t a whole-hearted thumbs up – and I can’t even explain some of my thoughts about the book very well. But I have kept thinking about it since I finished it last week and so that makes it worthy of a bit more attention than just a shrug and move on. It’s also had a lot of buzz – and it’s not often that I’ve read a literary fiction book like this early doors! I see a TV adaptation is in the works, and I will definitely watch that to see how it all translates.
My copy of Miss Austen came from NetGalley, but it is out now in hardback – and should be available in any decently stocked bookshop – as my photo from Heffers proves. It’s also available on Kindle and Kobo.