REVIEW: Sense and Sensibility (2013 Rewrite) by Joanna Trollope

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sands_trollope_cover Early in Joanna Trollope’s modern-set rewrite of Sense and Sensibility, Fanny Dashwood sweeps into Norland, which she is going to run as a commercial concern (a B&B), and tosses out the rumpled, genteel, shabby-chic furnishings, replacing them with shiny sleek modern decor.

And they say irony is dead.

When we first heard about what Harper is calling The Austen Project, we were intrigued by the idea, but had a difficult time figuring out what Harper was trying to accomplish. Continue reading

REVIEW: Longbourn by Jo Baker

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longbourn_cover The publication of Jo Baker’s new novel Longbourn generated the same sort of excitement as the arrival of a single gentleman of good fortune. It has been described as being a cross between Pride and Prejudice and Downton Abbey. When we heard this premise, we were all admiration. What a brilliant idea! Two of the most wildly popular and well-known popular culture properties–now together! It might be the greatest idea since some genius combined chocolate and peanut butter. The Commercial Publishing Industrial Complex has predictably lost its mind over it; frankly, we are astonished that its publication did not rip open the fabric of the universe, creating a giant black hole that sucked us all into it.

While this soundbyte selling point makes it simple for publishers and booksellers, we think it has done the authoress a disservice. We think Ms. Baker was shooting for something less mercenary and more ambitious: the Wide Sargasso Sea of the Jane Austen oeuvre; by which we mean a paraliterature title that strives for literary achievement as well as, or perhaps even more than, popularity. We have long wondered why no one has written such a novel. Sadly, Longbourn did not work for us, either as ambitious literary fiction or as a P&P/Downton mashup. There is nothing of the elegance of Downton Abbey, and a Pride and Prejudice that we do not recognize. Continue reading

That sense of impending…something or other

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brace_yourself_austen_project

The rewritten, modern-set Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope is due out later this month, and other distinguished authors have been lined up to rewrite Jane Austen’s novels for modern consumption: Val McDermid for Northanger Abbey, Curtis Sittenfeld for Pride and Prejudice, and Alexander McCall Smith for Emma, with two more authors to be announced later this year for Mansfield Park and Persuasion. Harper is calling this six-book series the Austen Project.

Our own feelings about this project are decidedly mixed. We are pleased by the accomplished authors who have been asked to participate, but frankly there are some red flags here in our opinion, the first of which is the fact that they apparently aren’t even changing the names of the novels. That seems to us potentially confusing to readers at best and disrespectful of Jane Austen at worst.

And really, do they think this is something new? They can’t possibly be pretending not to know about the dozens and dozens of modern-set Austen rewrites, both by authors attempting to be literary and those simply seeking to entertain. It’s like those attention seekers who proclaim that I AM WRITING PRIDE AND PREJUDICE WITH TEH SEXYTIMES IN IT like no one’s ever done it before; and then they wonder why we swing the Cluebat. We truly hope we won’t have to with this project, but we’ve noticed that what Janeites want and expect and what the Commercial Publishing Complex delivers tend to be very different things. Compare and contrast, for instance, the reception of Death Comes to Pemberley by the Greater Public and the mainstream media (good) and the reception in the Janeite community (reviled).

That being said, we will give Ms. Trollope’s S&S retelling a try, and report back to our Gentle Readers. It doesn’t really matter whether or not these books are any good, either; we (meaning Janeiteville, and the reading public in general) will be inundated with hype over the books. Brace yourselves.

REVIEW: Henry Tilney’s Diary by Amanda Grange

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henry_tilneys_diary_cover_us henry_tilneys_diary_cover It took Amanda Grange a long time to reach the sixth of Austen’s heroes for her series of retellings (and took us an even longer time to write this review. We are a bad Editrix and we feel bad). We are pleased to report that it was been worth the wait. In Henry Tilney’s Diary, our favorite Austen hero gets his turn in the sun, and proves to be as delightful as we had hoped. Witty, intelligent, a loving son and brother, all of Mr. Tilney’s best assets (and they are legion) are shown to full advantage in this enjoyable retelling of Northanger Abbey, done with Ms. Grange’s usual scrupulous attention to the original and an extra dash of Tilneyish wit and style. And doesn’t that make everything better? Continue reading

REVIEW: His Good Opinion by Nancy Kelley

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his_good_opinion_coverIf Austen paraliterature–sequels, prequels, retellings, embellishments, modernizations–has become a genre of its own, then retellings of Pride and Prejudice from the point of view of the hero has become a genre within a genre. There are at least a dozen of these retellings, some quite enjoyable and some, frankly, quite bewildering. We are not a purist, if by “purist” one means a Janeite unable to bring herself to read alternate takes on Austen’s novels, but we are a canonist. We like the novels that Jane Austen wrote, and when we choose to read paraliterature, we like it to show that the author has paid close attention to the original and understands it. Every detail doesn’t have to be perfect–and we all have our own take on what happens off-canvas in the original–but we consider these novels successful if we find the characters recognizable as those created by Jane Austen. In His Good Opinion, Nancy Kelley has written an enjoyable version of Mr. Darcy’s story that we found recognizable and believable. Continue reading

REVIEW: Dreaming of Mr Darcy by Victoria Connelly

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dreaming_of_mr_darcy_cover Review by Jenny Ellis

While Darcy’s name appears in the title of this Austen inspired modern day setting book, don’t assume it’s a take on Pride and Prejudice. It’s a nice blend of multiple Austen novels. Kay Ashton is working on illustrating all of Austen’s novels. Shortly after buying a bed & breakfast in Lyme so she can work on finishing her book The Illustrated Mr. Darcy a film crew working on an adaptation of Persuasion comes to town and the cast takes over her B&B. All the girls are crushing on the actor playing Wentworth, Oli Wade Owen. But sadly I did not find him likeable when Wentworth is my favorite Austen hero. I kept thinking if this were a real movie I’m not sure I could watch it.

Kay has some Emma-like traits and tries setting Gemma, who is playing Anne, up with the screenwriter and producer Adam while as readers we know Adam likes Kay. A couple times I just wanted to reach into the book and shake Kay.

It was kind of fun realizing certain parts of the storyline were from different Austen novels which I think makes this a highly discussable novel because some people may have caught things that you didn’t and vice versa. Makes you want to re-read it with a notebook handy (because as a librarian I would never mark in my book[Witness! –Ed.]) to write down all the homages to Austen’s novels.

Since this was a modern take on Jane Austen I wasn’t sure if everyone would end up with who I wanted them to… of course I can’t answer that without having a *spoiler alert* so I won’t. This book is the second in the Austen Addicts series. You don’t have to read book 1 for this book to make sense. I didn’t. But now I want to.

REVIEW: Definitely Not Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos

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definitely-not-mr-darcy-x-200 Review by Anna Horner

Definitely Not Mr. Darcy is a fun novel for any Jane Austen fan who ever dreamed about living in Regency England and finding her own Mr. Darcy. Chloe Parker, an Anglophile, divorced mom, and struggling business owner, leaves her young daughter behind in Chicago to appear on what she believes is a documentary set in Mr. Darcy’s Derbyshire that will enable her to show off her knowledge of all things Austen, win $100,000, and solve all her problems.

She’s a bit horrified to learn that she’s actually been cast in a reality show in which she and several women much younger than herself will compete to win the affections of the wealthy Mr. Wrightman. All she has to do is assume the role of an American heiress, live like it’s 1812, stay in character at all times, and get Mr. Wrightman to propose. Although she’s not interested in finding love, Chloe desperately needs the prize money. Enamored of leaving the present behind for a simpler, more romantic way of life, Chloe jumps headfirst into the game.

She soon learns that Regency life wasn’t all that romantic nor as fun as she’d imagined. She’s not just giving up her cell phone and e-mail; she also says goodbye to underwear, deodorant, daily baths, and toilets. She has to learn needlework and how to make ink. Worst of all, she has to give up the freedoms she enjoys as a modern woman and can no longer speak her mind or be alone with a man. Chloe not only struggles with the loss of modern conveniences, but she must also deal with bad news from home, her conflicted feelings for the Wrightman brothers, and the conniving Lady Grace – a rival contestant who would stop at nothing to send Chloe back home.

In Definitely Not Mr. Darcy, Karen Doornebos has crafted a hilarious novel with a spirited heroine who would make Jane Austen proud. Readers will enjoy watching Chloe navigate the challenges of the game and come alive in a way she hadn’t been since before her divorce. It’s easy to relate to Chloe and her desire for a simpler life, and you can’t help but cheer her on as she blunders her way through archery tournaments, tea parties, and balls. So much for a simpler life — no matter how hard Chloe tries, she’s always getting her gowns dirty and running afoul of the Regency rulebook, which makes for plenty of laughs.

Definitely Not Mr. Darcy is a lighthearted look at the customs of Jane Austen’s time that gives readers a new respect for her beloved heroines.

Anna Horner reviews books on Diary of an Eccentric, where she shares her love of the written word and indulges in her guilty pleasures of Jane Austen-inspired novels and books about World War II.