February 17, 2012

You give Jane a bad name

When I mention Jane Austen, what comes to mind? Maybe sweeping, period romances? Perhaps zombies, or cross stitch, or English class memories?
When I mention Jane Austen fans, what comes to mind? Unmarried ladies who baby talk to their cats? Young girls swooning or grandmas in cardigans?

I love Jane Austen, and even I've fallen prey to the generalization. She's used as shorthand, to mean a certain type of fiction, but it does a great disservice, because it tends to leave out all of her subversive, satiric humor.

While browsing the library last week for fluff, I picked up a book whose jacket proclaimed "For fans of Jane Austen and mysteries!" I love both of those things, so what the hell. I'll give it a shot. I did not bother to read the inside of the jacket, so made the assumption it was a mystery set in the Regency. Instead, it turned out to be yet another retelling of Pride and Prejudice, crossed with a plot practically stolen from Agatha Christie's A Murder Is Announced. That in and of itself was not the problem.
The heroine grated on my nerves. She quoted Austen lines, from the books or movies, at the drop of a hat. The author seemed to have spent more time figuring out how to work these in than craft realistic characters or a compelling story. The girl was supposed to be in her mid-twenties, yet she referenced childhood crushes on Corey Haim, Peter Gabriel and Jake Ryan. (The book was published in 2009.)
From the Harlequin romance school of writing, I was treated to detailed descriptions of practically everyone we met and their outfits, even store clerks who had absolutely no bearing on anything. Even for a founding member of The Society for the Preservation of the Adverb, there were far, far too many "colorful" descriptions.
Every time I'd turn the page, something would make my head want to explode. An example? Our heroine is of course (of course!) on a diet and grabs a package of Oreos, only to think better of it, so she "flung the package back untouched." Or another character "grabbed a large piece of bread and popped it in his mouth."
Naturally, I finished the book and because I am a glutton for punishment, read the sequel, which I had also picked up.
Moral of the story: browsing the library instead of just grabbing your books on hold is akin to grocery shopping while hungry.

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