Sunday, 23 January 2011

Writing Jane Austen by Elizabeth Aston

This is the story of Georgina, an American living in England whilst completing post doctorate research.  She rents a room in the house of Henry LeFoy, his teenage sister Maud and housekeeper Anna.
She's a published author specialising in historical misery.  Although her debut novel was critically well received, it appears that no-one actually enjoyed it and unfortunately she's struggling to write her next book.  Her scary editor, Livia, makes her an offer she shouldn't refuse, when publisher Dan Vassey "finds" the opening chapter of a long forgotten, never completed Jane Austen novel.  Georgina has to complete the book in double quick time for loads of cash which will allow her to stay in England.
The problem is that Georgina has never read any Austen and sees it as the antithesis of her gritty, downtrodden understanding of the nineteenth century.  She refuses to do it but circumstances, lack of money and pressure from her friends force her to reconsider.

Although I'm only giving this two stars, there was something strangely compulsive about this book and I did want to see how it all worked out, but there were just too many things that I didn't like to rate it any higher.  Firstly, I didn't like Georgina at all and if I can't warm to a lead character I tend to struggle. (That might just be me, but there it is!) I found her to be a literary snob in thinking that Austen is twee, fluffy and lacks realism.  She spends the first half of the book simply running away from anyone who is trying to make her write the book, making it a chain of events rather than a definite plot.  She is sneering about all the Austen haunts that she visits and comes across as a weak, bigoted character with major author angst. 
When she finally reads all the Austen novels (in a ridiculously short time that wouldn't allow anyone to truly appreciate them) she has a complete turnaround and tries to avoid writing the book as she realises she isn't worthy of the task!  Georgina is a self confessed procrastinator and there's even references to helpful websites (but I didn't check if they were real!)  The middle section of the book is all about the process of writing and heck, does it seem painful...this is enough to put any budding author off!  This focus on effort and process manages to kill off any interest in the story and characters for became a grind for me too.
Henry gradually becomes the romantic hero, but he's so weakly written that he's practically transparent.  Maud is possibly the most interesting character and I though Livia would have been far better approaching her to write the Austen book!  But there's an over reliance on stereotyped misunderstood teenage girl for her to be a stand alone character.
The final denouncement when Georgina finally writes the much demanded book wasn't a big surprise, but did manage to tie everything together. There are several sub-plots going on throughout that relate to Austen plots, but these are unnecessary and a bit forced, as was the quirk of putting in names of Jane Austen's many characters as an in-joke.
I had this on audiobook and couldn't understand why they'd used an American reader.  Georgina was the only American character and it made the whole thing sound out of place as the attempts at an English accent were patchy at best.  The use of "Americanisms" by English character's was also annoying and should have been edited out.  Maud as a private school teenager, would never use the word "sneakers"
and there were other examples that were just wrong!
Similarly to the Mr Darcy ruined my Life book, it had a spark of potential that it didn't live up to.  For something that has so much content on the process of producing a book, I though the author needed to take on her own advice a little more.  Disappointing and a bit pointless for me.  Sorry!