Cassandra and Jane by Jill Pitkeathley. (Harper, 2008.)
What did I expect of this fictional memoir of Jane Austen's sister, Cassandra? When I first heard of it, I thought the author was wise to use Cassandra's voice instead of trying to emulate Jane's. (Of course, Jane's narrative would have ended much sooner than Cassandra's.)
I have yet to read any of the Austen spin-offs because I don't read Austen solely for plot, and I'm not sure I want to know what happened once Jane had, as it were, closed the book on them. This book, however, posits itself as historical fiction.
Recently, I read Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman. Before I read this wonderful, rich book, I knew nothing of medieval Wales or Europe. I still cannot pronounce the names of most of the characters. However, I know them, I know how they fit into history, and I have a sense of how it was to live in those times.
(Trust me, I know this is an unfair comparison.)
I can not say the same of this book. The only character I got to know in any depth is Cassandra, and I neither like nor trust her. All I know at the end is that she was a jealous and sometimes- spiteful sister who enjoyed Jane's writings, but understood little of the creative process or spirit. Jane remains one-dimensional, shoved from one heartbreak to the next, or one disappointment to the next, with Cassandra interposing her own saccharine suffering into every nook and cranny. I didn't even have the satisfaction of reading colorful descriptions of clothes or foods, for heaven's sake! In fact, the lack of sensory detail probably predisposed me to dislike this book more than any other deficit.