Okay, maybe 2 books isn’t really a “round up,” but I have been on an Aaron Burr kick, so I only got two Austen fan fiction books read this summer…Plus, I am pretty picky when it comes to Austen fan fiction, so a lot of titles never make it past me reading the synopsis. I plan to do more Austen related reading this fall as I begin working on some research about Austen in American schools. More on that later.
First, the bad.
The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner
I wanted to like this one…really.
Sadly, it is a pale imitation of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Part of the problem is that the Jane Austen Society actually exists, so this falls flat on that front, but the characters and plot lines are mostly meh. Everything is predictable, and the “discussions” of Austen are contrived and shallow. If you are looking for quality fiction with an Austen connection, try the Jane Austen Project, or The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, either of which is infinitely more satisfying than this one.
Now for the good.
The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow
This one, I really enjoyed. A bit long at 465 pages, there are some bits that could have been edited, and one does grow a little weary of Mary’s internal monolog. Otherwise, though this is a solid entry about a subject much speculated on–whatever happened to Mary? Most Austen fans agree that Kitty could go either way and Lydia is a lost cause, but what of Mary, the serious, plain sister? Hadlow takes an interesting approach in starting Mary’s story before P&P begins, but continuing it after, so that P&P is kind of a marker for those who know it well. In this imagining, Mary is mostly ignored by her father, constantly berated by her mother, and as the middle sister, embodies that desire to please and be accepted that middle children often exhibit.
I won’t ruin the story by giving it away, but here’s what I will say. Hadlow effectively fleshes out Mary’s character, though sometimes at the expense of Jane and Lizzie, which some purists may find off-putting. However, it is deftly done and both Jane and Lizzie manage to redeem themselves in the end. Mary grows into a serious and considerate person and manages some adventures of her own in the romance department–the best part–she eventually gets the better of Caroline Bingley. That alone makes the book worth reading. We do meet the Gardiners again, which is nice, since they seem such a wonderful happy family and their role in P&P was somewhat circumscribed. The Collinses also feature–and most fans will be happy to know that in Hadlow’s version Mary does wonder about marriage to Mr. Collins, something many have posited as a good outcome for her (and him). This one definitely makes the cut for a fun Austen fan read. Enjoy!