The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen
Now, I know I haven’t covered very much historical fiction here at The Extravagant Platypus yet. I think it’s time to remedy that and I’m doing such a happy dance that this is the book I get to start that with. For those who didn’t enjoy Pride and Prejudice, you should probably just go ahead and scroll down to something from The Dresden Files or maybe The Alchemyst. For those of you who lapped up Pride and Prejudice and have a favorite adaptation, let me tell ya, you’ll want to stop here. Oh, how you’ll want to stop here.
Anne Sharp meets Jane Austen at the sweeping estate of Godmersham, while in the employment of Jane’s brother Edward as the governess for his children. Her initial reaction is jealousy, for Jane is clearly a favored aunt of Fanny, the pupil Anne prizes like a daughter. The jealousy, however, quickly fades to affection as Jane treats Anne as an equal in every way, taking meals and vacations together. A friendship quickly grows around the intrigue one could only expect to find in the English countryside in 1805.
I picked this book up based solely on the fact that I didn’t know anything about the way Jane Austen died and I’m such a sucker for a good historical fiction. Let me give you the real reason you should pick up it up: you get to walk through Jane Austen’s life with her through the perspective of her best friend. Admittedly, at times it reads more like a regency romance, but it’s never gratuitous and always stops at affection, even if it is unrequited.
The story moves along at a very reasonable clip, by far faster than anything Austen wrote, more resembling Pride and Prejudice and Zombies than Pride and Prejudice. Ashford does a phenomenal job of bringing the Austen family to life. I found myself falling in love with Mrs. Austen and her folksy wisdom about how nose size is related to intelligence, her missing front teeth, and her reverberating snore. I had expected to find more Mrs. Bennet in her, but was pleasantly surprised to find her to be much more agreeable, lacking all the abrasive qualities of the character of Jane’s creation and her nerves.
The amount of intrigue Ashford packs into the story is admirable to say the least. Good luck putting it down. It kind of reminded me of watching soap operas with my mom when I was a kid. You know, when the friend’s brother’s wife is maybe sleeping with their brother who might also be sleeping with the mother’s friend’s step-daughter’s gerbil or some such. To be honest, I never had the patience to keep track. But the intrigue in this story is addicting in the way gossip is, you can never get enough of it.
4 ink bottles.