Review: Jane Austen and Shelley in the Garden
Title: Jane Austen and Shelley in the Garden
Author: Janet Todd
Page Count: 304
Publication: September 2021
[Amazon | IndieBound | BN | Find it at your local library]
(Other reviews: Washington Post, The Scotland Herald)
Academics should not write fiction. Well, not all academics but most should not even attempt to write fiction even if it is a topic they know and love. (Umberto Eco is a fine example. He was a leading academic and his fiction is superb.)
In this case, Todd, an expert on Austen and a fan of Shelley, made a book, dare I say, snoozeable.
I was sorely disappointed by this book. I was so desperate to love it for I too love Austen and Shelley and the idea of Austen whispering in the ear of the main character and finding Shelley later on seemed beyond delightful. Any reimagined Austen is catnip to my brain.
But alas, despite the glowing review in WaPo and the weeks long hold at my local library, I found this book to be dull and rambling. After the perfunctory “It’s a truth universally acknowledged…” a few paragraphs later finds us the following:
I read that numerous times after I read the first chapter to see how it tied into the book. It doesn’t, not really. I still don’t get it.
The writing is extraneous and someone needed a new editor. The story meandered and seemed to hold at some points, confused on where to go next. The pictures looked like they were taken by an amateur (and who thought this was a good idea in the first place?) and were particularly fuzzy on my Kindle.
Books can be anything and everything. They can make you think, cry, love, and travel. Difficult topics do not have to be written obtusely nor should fiction. I often think of Salman Rushdie’s quip when he was told that some people find his books difficult to read. His response was that perhaps the person doing the reading wasn’t smart enough to understand his work. I call bullshit on this. I often find that when hoity toity authors come out with works that are deemed difficult what they really are are meditations on their own intelligence bookended by their over extensive vocabulary.
Todd’s other works have been praised by people like Hilary Mantel, Emma Donoghue, and Phillipa Gregory so she’s got to be doing something right. But was is it that she’s doing?
This book is more like a 2 stars over 1 as I was so disappointed and confused by what I was reading but somewhere out there people are going to love it. So as long as it is them, and not me.
(P.S. Todd wrote about Aphra Behn, the seventeenth century writer of erotic, poetry, and plays; political propagandist, and spy. I desperately want to read that book but I’m afeared that I will come away disappointed.)