Jane Austen and the afterlife

>> Wednesday, December 19, 2012

TITLE: What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved
AUTHOR: John Mullan

Mullan looks explores 20 questions suggested by Austen's works. These questions range from what do characters call each other, to how much age matters, from how much money was enough for what and how much people would know about what others were worth, to which characters don't actually speak in the books. You learn quite a lot about Austen's times, but most of all, you learn loads about how she uses these things in her work, and begin to understand just what an accomplished, technically gifted writer she was. The last chapter, which analyses how experimental a writer Austen was (very, it seems, and in ways I had never considered), makes the point that she was a brilliant writer even more clearly and unquestionably.

I enjoyed this a great deal, but I would have enjoyed it even more if I had read Austen's books more recently. I have read all of them, except for the unfinished Sanditon (which Mullan uses more sparingly, anyway), but for some of them, it's been a while. It was therefore hard to remember some of the particular plot points or characters that Mullan refers to, and obviously, much of the books is based on referring back to Austen oeuvre. Still, highly recommended.


TITLE: Six Feet Over: Adventures in the Afterlife
AUTHOR: Mary Roach

Six Feet Over (aka Spook in the US) is another of Mary Roach's off-the-wall looks at unlikely subjects. Here she turns her curious eye on what happens after death (and, in one of the most eye-popping chapters, during death). She looks at what the evidence is on all sorts of things: from reincarnation to ectoplasm, from capturing spririt voices on tape recorders to the physical weight of the soul. It's fascinating, full of material I didn't know and had never wondered about, as well as colourful characters.

My only issue is that I'm not a huge fan of Roach's writing style, though. I mean, I do like her goofiness and willingness to laugh at herself, and the fact that she tries very hard not to be judgmental, but there is way too much extraneous, filler detail here. I don't mean when she goes off track when she finds something interesting that's only tangentially related to her topic. I don't mind that at all -in fact, I love it. It's things like what the hotel she stayed in when she went to India was like, or a whole paragraph describing the librarian who gave her an archbishop's number. I didn't go "Oh, interesting" at that stuff, because it wasn't. I went "why on earth is she telling me this?". So I guess my issue is that she sometimes shows lack of judgment on what is interesting and what really isn't.

Eh well. Not the greatest, but I still enjoyed it.



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