Thursday 2 January 2020

Austen in 2020: Miss Austen by Gill Hornby and The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

One of the unexpected and wonderful perks of getting a novel published is that you’re able to get your hands on other books early in the form of ARCs (advance reader copies).

So this week I’m giving you a sneak peek of two of my favourite forthcoming novels I’ve been lucky enough to read. What’s more, they’re on a theme! Jane Austen lovers rejoice at these two new responses to one of history’s most loved writers.

I <3 ARCs!
Gill Hornby’s Miss Austen (coming this month in the UK, this April in the US) is the story of the other Austen sister—Cassandra. Austen novels often end with a proposal of marriage, but Hornby’s novel begins with one, before our heroine Cassy’s life is sent in an unexpected direction following the tragic death of her fiancé. The novel alternates between Jane and Cassandra’s youth, including the infancy of Jane’s writing, and 1840, when an elderly and frail Cassandra must protect her late sister’s legacy.

Hornby’s novel is ambitious (she writes letters by Jane herself!) and touching. I enjoyed being in the perspective of an older protagonist and the foregrounding of the sisters’ relationship. There is romance in here and keen social observation worthy of Austen herself, but the heart of the novel is this one key relationship that helped make Jane Jane.

Natalie Jenner’s The Jane Austen Society (coming this May) takes us into the twentieth century. Set in the 1940s in Chawton, where Jane Austen spent the last years of her life, the novel is the (sadly fictitious) origin story of the Jane Austen Society, which preserves Jane’s home and possessions for antiquity.

A love of Austen’s novels binds the ensemble cast together. There’s a lonely doctor, a young war widow, a quiet farmer, a sad spinster, a Hollywood starlet and an academically-minded maid. They disagree on their favourite Austen novels, but one thing unites them—their desire to share Jane with the world.

I loved how discussion of Austen’s novels, down to quoting lines of her prose, becomes a language that brings Jenner’s characters together and the echoes of various Austen plotlines in the conclusions of the society members’ stories. This is a novel that will reward readers who know their Austen well, but still delight those who do not.

I’d recommend Miss Austen and The Jane Austen Society to all Austenites. Both novels, along with Molly Greeley’s The Clergyman’s Wife, which I also reviewed recently, prove there’s still plenty of room for more novels inspired by Jane.

More of a Bronte fan? My novel, Bronte’s Mistress, based on the scandalous affair between Branwell Bronte, the Bronte sisters’ brother, and his employer’s wife, is available for pre-order now! You can also connect with me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my email newsletter below.

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