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‘Sense and Sensibility’ by Jane Austen ****

I read this book as part of the Austen in August challenge, the 20 Books of Summer challenge and the Reading England 2015 challenge.

First of all, I enjoyed Sense and Sensibility almost as much as I thought I would. Having read Jane Austen’s last completed novel, Persuasion, right before reading this one, some changes in style and in the maturity of the writing were more than apparent to me. (I’m really bad at differentiating among styles, so I was happy to notice this change). sense-and-sensiblity

Sense and Sensibility had some elements that took me by surprise. Despite the novel’s (and Jane Austen’s in general as far as I know) initial cheerful tone and atmosphere, it ended up containing some scenes that described heartache and the feelings of abandonment and being deceived in a pretty accurate manner. Still, the anguish of lost love is nowhere near as harrowing as that in Persuasion.

I loved the characters of both sisters, as I think that both their basic traits (Elinor’s sense anf Marianne’s sensibility) perfectly combine and complete each other. Edward was also a character I seemed to like from the very first time he appeared, though I couldn’t say the same for Willoughby – his wicked attitude couldn’t really be amended in my eyes, despite his initial prince-like appearance.

The descriptions of the English countryside, as well as of London, were as delightful as ever in all of Austen’s novels. The landscapes themselves might have not been described in much detail, but they were affected by the sisters’ feelings of the time as well as by the people inhabiting or simply associated with the places described each time.

All in all, I enjoyed reading this book a lot and the typical Austen way of wrapping every mess up in the end was more than redeeming.

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‘Persuasion’ by Jane Austen *** (Austen in August)

August is already upon us, and the Austen in August project which is hosted by roofbeamreader has officially begun. I adore Jane Austen, but I still have not accomplished reading all of her works. So, Austen in August seemed like a perfect opportunity for me to do so.

I actually read Persuasion back in June, because it was the book I was mostly looking forward to and I simply couldn’t refrain from not reading it immediately, but I decided to save posting my review until the beginning of the project.9780141198835

Persuasion is Jane Austen’s last completed novel and one that slightly diverts from all her previous ones. The age of her main characters in this book is different, as they are in their late twenties to early thirties – something that must have been closer to Austen’s own age of the time this novel was being written, and also presumably reflective of the experiences and wisdom this age brings to a woman of her time.

I was prepared to adore this book, as I had heard fabulous things about it from other people that had read and loved it, but sadly it wasn’t able to fulfill all those high expectations of mine in the end. I loved the more mature perspective of the main character, Anne, and the idea of a second chance at love which permeated the novel.

Austen’s descriptions and prose were as delightful as ever, but I thought that the story was a lot slower than her other works I’ve read so far. I also loved how the tension of what will actually happen between Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth built up until the last chapters. This was the first Austen story, though, the ending of which gave me a feeling of insecurity as well.

The way Austen tackled issues of family bonds, social status, the power other people’s words have to manipulate one’s true feelings is wonderful as always. Despite the maturity with which this novel was written, one can clearly see all the characteristics of Jane Austen that have made her so loved to everyone who reads her novels.

I’m really glad I read this book, and, had it not been so slow, I would have definitely rated it higher. Apart from Austen in August, I also read it as part of my 20 Books of Summer and Reading England 2015 challenges.

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4

Marzie’s Novella Series: ‘Lady Susan’ by Jane Austen

From the manuscript of ‘Lady Susan’

Jane Austen was in inspired by Les Liaisons Dangereuses in her concept for this epistolary novella. Lady Susan may have begun as an innocent in scandal, but she progresses to being no lady in any sense. She is cunning and seduces at any chance to further her position in life.

Austen is at her caustic best in this, and one can image her disapproving eye regarding her character. The entanglements that arise are comical and loaded with Austen’s dry wit. This was written at an early age, one of many stories she wrote to read aloud to entertain her family. This is an essential addition to a Jane Austen completist. Re-print by Hesperus Classics novellas.

Rating: 4 stars

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‘Mansfield Revisited’ by Joan Aiken ***

In Mansfield Revisited, a novel which was first published in 1984, prolific author Joan Aiken has presented a sequel to Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.  Aiken writes in her introduction that she decided to write this book – one of the six sequels which she penned for each of Austen’s novels – out of ‘love and admiration’.  She goes on to say that she found herself ‘filled with an overmastering wish to find out what happened’ to the characters whom she had come to love.

‘Mansfield Revisited’ by Joan Aiken (Jonathan Cape)

The blurb of the novel is intriguing: “After the sad demise of Sir Thomas, Edmund Bertram and his new wife Fanny must sail to the West Indies to oversee the family’s affairs.  Back at Mansfield Park, Fanny’s younger sister Susan is left at the helm…  Yet the news of Henry and Mary Crawford’s return to Mansfield heralds the greatest storm yet”.

Aiken describes the way in which she has tried to work out the story of the sequel ‘by a mixture of imagination and common sense’.  Fanny and Edmund are now the parents of a ‘remarkably pretty little girl’, Mary, and a baby boy named William.  For some reason which appears to be rather inexplicable to the modern reader, baby William is taken along to the West Indies, but three-year-old Mary is left at home.

Throughout, it feels as though Aiken has adopted Austen’s tone and narrative style well.  Her dialogue wonderfully echoes that which can be found within the original novel.  The period setting has been well evoked.  The definite strength of the book as far as I am concerned is the continuation of Austen’s voice.  If it were read back to back with the original, I imagine that one book would seamlessly blend into the other, creating a coherent whole of sorts.

This does have a drawback, however.  It feels as though, by echoing Austen’s style so well, Aiken has put little of her own individual stamp onto the book.  Whilst it is clear that she is a great mimic, we do not get any real sense of her own writing.

Mansfield Revisited, as any reader of Austen’s novels would come to expect, is a very familial story.  The entirety is thicker in terms of dialogue and character development than in its plot.  The story moves on well and is believable throughout.  The novel is delightfully of the period in question, and is certain to hold appeal for all of those who so enjoyed Austen’s original.

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Flash Reviews (8th November 2013)

Selected Stories by Alice Munro ****
I adore Munro’s writing, as most of you probably know by now.  She has recently – and most deservedly – won the Nobel literature prize, though is sadly too ill to collect her award in person from the ceremony in Sweden.  I have read several of her collections to date, and when I saw a lovely American edition of her Selected Stories languishing on a shelf in Black Gull Books in Camden, I just had to have it.

The volume is made up of stories which Munro has selected herself, and all are presented in a roughly chronological order.  I had read several of them before in other collections, but it was lovely to reacquaint myself with them.  Munro has made a very good selection, and each story leads into the next to form a cohesive whole, despite the disparities between protagonists and their situations.  The majority of her writing here is filled with darkness, and the notion of loneliness and how it is able to affect one is woven through from the outset.  Her writing is beautiful, but this, for me, goes without saying.  Whilst I adore her titled collections, this is a great way to receive a thorough overview of Munro’s stories.  It is better to dip in and out of than to read in one go, as I did.  I very much enjoyed reading Selected Stories in this manner, but as the settings were all similar, some of the stories did run together a little, which was a shame.  Regardless, it comes with this Literary Sister’s seal of approval.

Juvenilia by Jane Austen **
I felt that, being a fan of Austen’s novels, reading her Juvenilia was a must for me.  Unfortunately, I seem to have been mistaken.  All of the stories collected here felt rushed, and the lack of editing in the volume very much annoyed me.  Yes, fair enough, Austen wasn’t the best at spelling, but there was no need, in my eyes, to keep in so many of her original mistakes.  Most of the pieces in Juvenilia are unfinished fragments, all of which share the same themes (yes, you guessed it – love and marriage, or the lack thereof).  The majority are written in the same stolid, plodding, matter-of-fact, rather bumbling way.  In comparison to the Bronte sisters’ juvenilia which I am working my way through, Austen’s early work is decidely poor.

The Secret Passage by Nina Bawden ****
The more work of Bawden’s which I read, the more I am beginning to favour her children’s stories over her adult offerings.  The last couple of the latter which I have read have been thoroughly disappointing.  I was a little apprehensive when I began The Secret Passage, but I very much enjoyed it.  The story is relatively short (only 155 pages in the lovely old Puffin edition I have), but it is so well written.  The relatively simple story – three children living in Africa suddenly have to move to England to live with her aunt after their mother passes away and their father is taken ill – has somehow been rendered unpredictable in terms of what one might expect will happen.  It reminded me a little of Tom’s Midnight Garden, The Secret Garden and Enid Blyton’s mystery stories.  A lovely, lovely book which brought a smile to my face, and which is sure to delight even the fussiest young reader.