Saturday, November 3, 2012

Review: Jane Austen Made Me Do It by Laurel Ann Nattress

Jane Austen Made Me Do It--Laurel Ann Nattress
October 2011 by Ballantine Books
464 pages--Goodreads

“My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” If you just heaved a contented sigh at Mr. Darcy’s heartfelt words, then you, dear reader, are in good company. Here is a delightful collection of never-before-published stories inspired by Jane Austen—her novels, her life, her wit, her world.

In Lauren Willig’s “A Night at Northanger,” a young woman who doesn’t believe in ghosts meets a familiar specter at the infamous abbey; Jane Odiwe’s “Waiting” captures the exquisite uncertainty of Persuasion’s Wentworth and Anne as they await her family’s approval of their betrothal; Adriana Trigiani’s “Love and Best Wishes, Aunt Jane” imagines a modern-day Austen giving her niece advice upon her engagement; in Diana Birchall’s “Jane Austen’s Cat,” our beloved Jane tells her nieces “cat tales” based on her novels; Laurie Viera Rigler’s “Intolerable Stupidity” finds Mr. Darcy bringing charges against all the writers ofPride and Prejudice sequels, spin-offs, and retellings; in Janet Mullany’s “Jane Austen, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!” a teacher at an all-girls school invokes the Beatles to help her students understand Sense and Sensibility; and in Jo Beverley’s “Jane and the Mistletoe Kiss,” a widow doesn’t believe she’ll have a second chance at love . . . until a Miss Austen suggests otherwise.

Regency or contemporary, romantic or fantastical, each of these marvelous stories reaffirms the incomparable influence of one of history’s most cherished authors.

I won this collection from one of Misty's giveaways during Austen in August over at The Book Rat (thanks again, Misty).  I thought it was a collection of essays by authors on how Jane Austen had influenced their lives and their writing, but it turned out to be a collection of Austen spin-offs, continuations, and retellings.  This was my first venture into the world of Austen spin-offs, and for the most part, I liked it.  I didn't enjoy the contemporary stories as much, but that is due just to personal taste; I am rarely interested in contemporary adult stories.  Most of the stories were a fun, new look at Austen's characters.

Writing a review on a collection of short stories is difficult.  I can't really talk about overarching plot, characters, or writing style without going into a long list of every story and how it worked, so I'll just touch on my favorites.  
--In "Jane Austen's Nightmare" by Syrie James, the main characters of each novel come to tell Austen that she portrayed them poorly.  It was fun to see Emma being a busybody, Elinor claiming she is too perfect, and Fanny complain that Austen made her boring.  
--"Nothing Less than Fairyland" by Monica Fairview is a continuation of Emma.  I had never considered Emma and Knightly's married life, but trying to live in the same house as Mr. Woodhouse would be maddening.  I thought Emma's characterization was just a bit off, but it was a good story.
--"Jane Austen and the Mistletoe Kiss" by Jo Beverley gives a widow a second chance at love.  Cute and short with a touch swoon-worthy Regency romance. 
--"What Would Austen Do" by Jane Ruino and Caitlen Rabino Bradway was a lot of fun, mostly due to the main character's voice.  A teenaged boy with an Austen-obsessed mother, he has just a touch of snark, some sarcasm, and the general teenaged 'all the adults in my life are insane' attitude.

Those who enjoy Austen spin-offs will enjoy this collection.  There's a wide variety of stories, from metafiction to mystery to contemporary romance to young adult to Regency romance to sequels to stories about Austen's family and more, so there's something in it for everyone.  

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