There’s a bit of hating going down for this book, I’ve noticed. Some people are dismissing it simply as fanfic which… yes, I can see that, especially if you don’t think that fanfic can possibly have any merits. But to suggest that this is fanfic and therefore unworthy of engaging with is just lazy.
Other people have dissed this because of its merits, or lack thereof. That, I am totally fine with.
I have read Pride and Prejudice. I have seen, and adored large chunks of, the BBC adaptation. I am not, however, an Austen fangirl. This is, I think, my very first PD James. So on neither count am I particularly invested. I read my mum’s copy; I read it partly to keep up with her, and partly because I was expecting exactly what I got: a bit of light entertainment, and one person’s suggestions for how life might have turned out for Lizzie and Lydia.
I did not expect the reaction I had against Wickham that was very, very strongly influenced by the Lizzie Bennett Diaries. There may have been metaphorical gnashing of teeth at the mention of his name.
Is this brilliant literature? No. There are huge chunks of info-dump where James appears to want to show off just how much she knows about 18th and 19th century law and policing. There is one hilarious bit where she manages to get in a little “America will grow up to be most awesome” message, which had me choosing between giggling and eye-rolling so hard I was going to fall off the couch.
Is this a fun read? I thought so. I had been misled somehow about who it was that died (spoiler! this is a murder mystery!), so that was a surprise. There were obvious tantalising clues dropped early on that I looked forward to having explained properly; some of them were resolved as I half-expected, others were quite different. There are a few different plot-lines woven throughout, which was nice, and it’s not entirely following Elizabeth – James gets to play a bit with Darcy, in particular, although I thought those sections were often the least interesting.
As an homage to Pride and Prejudice, it’s ok but not awesome. I think James does an all right job of capturing Elizabeth and Darcy as a couple; Lydia has turned into a mini-Mrs Bennett, and Jane is a smiling placeholder, nothing more. There are some reflections on other characters – Georgiana, Fitzwilliam (who has completely changed for me thanks to the Lizzie Bennett Diaries, and this version was consequently very weird), and even Wickham. There was one P&P character that James did a very, very clever thing with that I really didn’t see coming – she gets kudos for that, if nothing else.
Overall, a satisfactory murder mystery. Don’t read it pining for Austen; do read it for what it is, if that’s your thing.
This has been on my to-be-read list for a long time – since Tansy recommended it at least, and definitely since it won the World Fantasy Award last year (2010). It’s not really the sort of book that might immediately seem appealing to me; I don’t think the list of books that I’ve read recently and reviewed here would indicate that I’m much of a romance, or Jane Austen, reader. (Hmm. Maybe the Carriger. And possibly the Bujold if you’ve actually read them….) The reality of course is that I am a sucker for a well-written romance that isn’t set in my normal world, and that includes other interesting elements. So, Austen – because I dig the social commentary, and it is indeed so far from my own experience. Not that I’m a great Janeite; I think I’ve only read three completely? (I Could Not get through Emma. She annoyed me too much.)
Anyway. This book is described as one that Austen might have written… had she lived in a world with magic. And, yes, I could pretty much leave a review at that, except that someone else has already stolen that line and where would be the fun in such a short discussion?
Kowal has clearly and consciously set out to write a Regency romance + magic – no attempt here to hide her influences. It is a comedy of manners – and one of those comedies that falls perilously close to being a tragedy, as such things must in order to make the comedy (not the laugh-out-loud sort, but the all-coming-good sort) all the more poignant and wonderful. The main character, Jane, is very plain indeed, but possessed of a remarkable talent for manipulating glamour – the art of using magic to enhance or change appearances. In the same way that the Bennet sisters were to be skilled at the arts of music in particular, well-bred young ladies in this Regency are to be familiar with magic. Its subtle and sensible use are key to a charming, upper-class home. Jane has little hope, though, that her talents will secure her a husband, being that terribly old-maid age of 28. The plot progresses with mishaps and misunderstandings, revelations and rescues, and some utterly delightful pieces of descriptive prose.
There are a number of things that make this book a wonderful, relaxing, read – much like a bath with a book and champagne, or a spring afternoon in the sun with a book and chocolate. The first is the assurance that, because Kowal has taken Austen as her muse, you just know that things are basically going to turn out all right. Of course, it was possible that Kowal would totally throw readerly expectations, but after the first couple of chapters – discovering that the mother is Mrs Bennet to the nth degree, and observing the love-tangles – I was fairly sure that I could rely on Kowal to subvert some aspects but not the basic premise of the comedy. The second is the really wonderful description that Kowal employs throughout, which makes both the setting in general and the idea of glamour in particular come alive. There is no attempt at really explaining how glamour works – just like Austen never attempts to explain how music works. It’s simply a part of the world, this idea of folding light to create illusion.
I enjoyed all of the characters, in the same way that one does with Pride and Prejudice; Mrs Bennet may be a car crash in motion, Lydia a tornado and Wickham a particularly nasty form of blight, but they’re still fascinating to watch. A similar principle applies to Shades, although I shan’t reveal any of the character parallels (some are obvious from early on, others not so much). Jane is an appropriately plucky, thoughtful, and sensitive heroine, one that I at least could certainly empathise with. She deals with her family, friends, and neighbours in the sensible and demure way expected of a Regency lady, always aware of her her social standing and the need to protect her own and others’ reputation. The reader is afforded more of an insight into her thoughts that Austen allows, though, so we also get some of the alternatives she runs through before doing The Right Thing, which modernises her a little but not to the detriment of overall believability.
The one omission I was surprised by was the lack of reference to church, which gets just one mention I think towards the end. I would have been quite interested to see how Kowal imagined her Regency working with the actual one, where church was one of the foci of village life and the minister an important member of the community. Perhaps we will get this in the sequel, which is apparently due early next year (hooray!).
Overall this is a really lovely, gentle, engaging and joyful novel.
I am not, generally, a fluffy movie kind of gal. However, I agreed to go see this movie with two of my very good friends (I realised the other day that I’ve known them for 10 and 11 years! Amazing!) at the Moonlight Cinema. Sadly, Al had to pull out at the last minute, so it was just K and me: right up the front, with blanket and very tasty food, and a bottle of moscato.
Overall, I must admit to enjoying the movie: five women get together to read the six Austens, through various means and for various purposes. A bloke joins them as well, for the obvious reason – getting into the pants of one of them, although it was more refined than that.
A couple of things occurred to me, which I thought I’d share here – mild spoilage:
1. The bloke is a sci-fi buff, and has never read any ‘classics’: in fact, the bloke first meets up with the woman for whom he joins he bookclub, he’s at a scifi con (SwanCon! woohoo!). One of the funnier moments of the movie comes when he first turns up with all six books in one: in case they’re sequels. This is such a classic scifi idea; it makes perfect sense to me. It’s also very interesting to see that this scifi buff is perfectly capable of reading, understanding, and communicating ideas about ‘great literature.’ There’s also an interesting sideline in him convincing the woman to read scifi, at first Ursula le Guin. She refuses for a long time, before he shames her into reading them and she, of course, loves it.
2. Singleness is a huge issue. One of the women is middle-aged-ish, and another is going through a divorce; one is in a troubled marriage, one is a lesbian with fairly tempestuous relationships, and the other has been married six times (currently divorced). So how to deal with being single, and what this means for a woman, is explored a bit (although not great depth). This is not my issue, and as far as I was concerned this was simply part of the movie. The interesting part, I realised, was that there was no mention of Grigg’s singleness. He was in his mid-thirties, at least, and single, but this was never an issue. Not once. Because it’s ok for men to be bachelors, but women are spinsters – bachelorettes just don’t cut it.
3. The last thing to mention is the conclusion. I quite liked the end – I am totally fine with happy endings, even sappy endings, sometimes. The thing that bugged me here was the scripting! It was appalling! There were so many other possible ways of communicating the same idea – even I could have written something better! Anyway… grrr. Nearly spoiled a good movie.
Of all ridiculous things… this movie!
J is out for the weekend, so I got some girls over to eat and catch up, which was great, and we ended up watching Bride and Prejudice. It was hilarious… I generally find musicals very uncomfortable, for whatever reason, and I did a bit this one too, but it’s just so over the top and ridiculous and beautiful to look at that you can’t help but laugh and enjoy it.