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REVIEW: Cassandra and Jane by Jill Pitkeathley

July 28, 2009

Cassandra and Jane by Jill PitkeathleyReview by a Baja Janeite

I am a lazy reader. I realized this recently, after abruptly abandoning two Jane Austen biographies. I became impatient with 1) the number of pages dedicated to Jane’s relatives or 2) poorly documented theories about Jane’s love life. However, I just discovered a charming “Jane Austen Novel” that focuses primarily on Jane’s life and does not try to pass off fictionalized romance as true biography. Perfect!

Cassandra and Jane by Jill Pitkeathley (US Copyright 2008, HarperCollins Publishers, New York) recounts Austen’s life from sister Cassandra’s sympathetic viewpoint. Opening and closing with the famous letter burning scene, Cassandra remembers Jane’s birth, life, and contributions. There are historical facts woven throughout the book as well as three or four direct quotes from Austen’s novels. The language seems appropriate for the period. The conversations reflect both Jane’s astuteness and Cassandra’s affection. The almost-romance even seems plausible, given the little we actually know about Jane’s life and tastes.

The story behind Cassandra and Jane is interesting, too. Baroness Pitkeathley has been a true Austen devotee for over fifty years. She rereads at least two or three novels each year and “never goes on holiday without at least one in her luggage.” During her second serious bout with cancer, she vowed to write a book about her favorite author, and Cassandra and Jane is the result. The tender insights and conversations reflect Pitkeathley’s many years interacting with people as a social service worker in Britain.

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  1. July 28, 2009 4:43 pm

    Oh dear. I checked it out on Goodreads, and it’s got a rating average of 2.78. I would consider your recommendation with more weight than the average reviewer knowing you are a Janeite, but I was wondering if you could possibly shed any light on the negative reviews (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3092126.Cassandra_and_Jane_A_Jane_Austen_Novel).

  2. July 28, 2009 7:02 pm

    @Dana: It has a bad rating because it’s very badly written. You can read my review here, in which I bash it at great length. To summarize: It has typos and grammar mistakes on every page, the characterization is illogical and unappealing, and despite the subtitle, it is not, in fact, a novel.

  3. baja janeite permalink
    July 28, 2009 11:46 pm

    I checked out GoodReads- the reviews are quite varied! Amazon.com reviewers have given it a 4.5 out of 5. It must depend on the reader’s expectations. Dana, you can read a few pages of the book on the Amazon site to decide if it interests you. I liked the book. Apparently, some readers did not!

    There were a few punctuation errors. Unfortunately, some of the scores of comma rules have changed over the last 10 years. It is difficult, at times, to decide if a comma is really necessary.

    I would not bash a book unless it was evil. Writing is the most difficult of the communication skills- as well as the most personal. Why hurt the author? (especially if she has the good sense to love Jane Austen!) If I don’t like a book, I don’t review it.

  4. July 29, 2009 10:47 am

    baja janeite, I’m glad you liked it, honestly I am. And maybe I’m just cranky.

    But if someone wants to know why the book got some bad reviews, I believe in being honest. I’d rather make sure people know before they spend money on it.

  5. July 30, 2009 2:09 am

    Thanks Katharine and Baja Janeite for helping me out. I’m an English teacher, and I can’t read Philippa Gregory because she doesn’t seem to know what a comma splice is. Her dialogue is also not period sounding. Katharine, I read your review. I think Goodreads reviewers tend to be more critical than Amazon reviewers, which is one reason they are sometimes lower (by quite a bit), and also a reason why I like to read them. I think your suggestion to read a few pages at Amazon is a good one; I’ll try that. Thanks again to both of you for your insights.

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