Jane Austen & Cinderella

>> Thursday, February 21, 2013

TITLE: The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things
AUTHOR: Paula Byrne

This is not your usual biography. Rather than take a linear, chronological approach and go through Jane Austen's life step by step, Byrne chooses to use use objects relevant to her life as a starting point. Through them, she presents a fascinating look at Austen's life and times.

An Indian shawl sparks of an exploration of how Austen wasn't a closed-off, provincial writer. Rather, she had plenty of international connections, and Byrne shows how this is reflected in her work. This portrait, showing Lord Mansfield two adopted daughters, is a starting point for a discussion about her views on slavery. A royalty cheque provides insight into the business side of how her books were published (I had no idea that her first, Sense and Sensibility was, for all intents and purposes, vanity publishing!).

It's not really about what she did and when. That's there, of course, but the emphasis is on how she felt and thought, and how this is reflected in her books. There are a couple of points where I thought the author was overreaching and possibly jumping to conclusions, but that was only on relatively minor things. On the whole, I thought it was fantastic. I haven't read biographies of Austen done the traditional, linear way, so I can't really compare, but I really liked this thematic approach!

MY GRADE: A strong B+.

AUTHOR: Malinda Lo

Oh, the disappointment! I've heard good things about Ash, and the idea of a lesbian retelling of Cinderella sounded amazing. I just couldn't get into it.

Mainly, my problem was that the characters were too opaque and enigmatic (and not enigmatic in a good way). It was all: then she did this, and then so and so said this. Ash's stepmother told her Ash would have to become her servant to pay off the debts her father had left, and Ash became a servant. Ash met a fairy prince in the forest, they went for long walks together and became friends. That's the level of the narrative. It's a level that can work for a traditional fairy tale, but in a full novel, it becomes tedious.

What I want in a fairy tale retelling is insight into the characters, an understanding of why they might act in the often puzzling ways characters act in fairy tales. I didn't get that here. After almost half the book, characters were still just as superficial and illogical as in the original, and I lost patience.

MY GRADE: It was a DNF.


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