26 October 2008

Cassandra and Jane: book review

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.



Paula said...

I am reading Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman right now! I just picked it up to read for this week for the RIP challenge.
I am on chap. 2 and already it is so wonderful!

Carrie K said...

I have Here Be Dragons and have read one of the other books in Sharon Kay Penman's Welsh series. Unfair? Hardly. Same genre, just one is brilliantly executed and the other not so much. Still, I'm sure the Cassandra book will have its audience.

sunt_lacrimae_rerum said...

I am always so disappointed in almost every Austen continuation, completion, update--why do people think that they can even begin to be on the same page with Austen's sparkle and effervescence?

I am SO thinking of you.

Stacey said...

My sentiments exactly...Cassandra was almost evil in her possesiveness of Jane and it was so clear that she never appreciated her writings and almost sabatoged her to the point of depression in which during those times she did not write. I kept finding myself wanting to shout "Jane, wake up and get away from Cassandra!" The depression that Jane suffered almost seemed Cassandra induced at times.

This book did not make all of my senses come alive not even when they ate dinner and my senses would get to the point where they were just about to peak and then be dashed.

I am so glad that I am not the only one that left the story being upset with Cassandra and feeling she was selfish and possesive.

April said...

Sharon Kay Penman is one of my very favorite authors - all her books are wonderful. I just wish she'd write faster!

Isabel said...

Joan Aiken a competent historical author, has written a novel called "Jane Fairfax". Makes it really hard to warm up to Emma! And it does slightly affect re-reads of the same.

Cover says she also wrote one called "Emma Watson". hmmm.