I approach Austen fan fiction cautiously. Sometimes it is quite good, but there are many cringeworthy examples out there. Happily for readers, Miss Austen takes a more original turn than most.
Hornby imagines a possible answer to a question that tortures the Austen aficionado… “Why did Cassandra burn the letters?” Okay, I am assuming she did, when it is not actually known for a fact that Cassandra burned them, but the conventional wisdom in Austen circles is that Cassandra did away with the letters to protect her sister’s reputation. No one knows for sure what was in them, but based on her surviving letters, there may have been some biting humor which could have been viewed as “unladylike” at best. It is endlessly fascinating to muse about, but I digress.
In Hornby’s novel, the reader gets a possible answer to the question along with some backstory on Cassandra’s own life and loves. There have been several fictionalized biographies/novels about famous writers’ helpmates in the last few years (The Paris Wife, Zelda, The Other Einstein to name just a few) and this novel falls easily into that category. There is nothing unexpected here, but it is satisfying in the way a comfortable sweater and a good cup of tea are. If you are an Austen fan looking for a fun read, why not? Don’t expect to be surprised, but do expect to have your heartstrings pulled a few times.
Not quite a guilty pleasure, but not earth shattering either. Enjoy it with your tea.