Having recently reread Emma and Northanger Abbey, I decided to try a current author, Natalie Jenner, inspired by Austen in 2020. In the Jane Austen Society, Jenner creates a diverse group of characters who come together, united by their individual experiences with the works and words of Austen. To quote Jenner, “I am going to write a book about a group of people trying to save Jane Austen’s house.”
This is a fictional story that takes place in post WWII England. The location is historically valid. Two hundred years ago Chawton, England was the final home of Jane Austen. It is where Austen penned Emma. However, Jenner’s well developed characters are mirror images of Austen’s devotees around the world. By this I mean, they are from all walks of life. Each presents their own unique experience as a reader of Austen. Each endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma. They are the generation that greatly sacrificed to win the war.A tidbit of substance for the reader is “Sometimes hope is all we have: but hope can also sometimes be just enough.” – Jenner’s words – The theme, throughout Jenner’s novel, is the universal language of literature and the power of books, to unite and heal.
For Austenites, Jenner throws in many little “Easter eggs”, giving the hard core fans a hunt for hidden parallels with Austen’s own works.
Austen’s novels are wonderful reads to discover and to revisit. Jenner’s novel stands on its own story line and merit to keep the reader involved and motivated to move forward. The power and strength that Jenner’s characters display is a testament to a legacy of power in Austen’s stories.
I feel this book is especially meaningful for any reader who has already found timeless connections in the writings of Jane Austen. I suppose this discovery could also be made through the numerous cinematic adaptations of Austen’s works. However, for me, movie adaptations never seem to do justice to my image of a story. How refreshing to find a current novel that timelessly connects with two hundred year old literature. A more modern story of hope and shared purpose.
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