Pros: A very mixed selection in terms of quality.
Cons: This was a book that sadly, turned out to be just average.
Usually, I skip anthologies, not really finding enough there to entertain me in a short story or novella when I prefer reading a good, solid novel. However, I had heard good things about this collection, and on a whim picked it up at my local bookstore on a recent shopping trip. And of course, being a great fan of the works of Jane Austen, that most popular of English authors, I felt pretty certain about finding one or two stories to enjoy.
Every year, a writing competition is held to honor Jane Austen and the home that she shared with her mother and sister towards the end of her life, Chawton House. This published collection was the first one, and drew more than three hundred submitted stories. Of these, twenty were selected as the best, and gathered together to be published.
And of these twenty, I found them to be a rather mixed bag. Some I enjoyed very much -- about four of them -- a few simply were 'meh', and the rest were average. What I've talked about here are the five best stories of the lot:
Jane Austen Over the Styx by Victoria Owens
This is one wicked little tale of Miss Austen after death, when she is called to account for some of her writing. Very funny, and spot on perfect. And it's the best story of the bunch.
Cleverclogs by Hilary Spiers
All about being young and discovering the joys of reading Jane Austen. It's both a delightful and somber story, told with hardly an excess phrase to it. My second favourite.
Eight Years Later by Elaine Grotefeld
A charming take on a novel by Miss Austen, but told from an interesting perspective and twist in modern times.
The Delaford Ladies' Detective Agency by Elizabeth Hopkinson
This one, well it's obviously a pastiche between Jane Austen and Alexander McCall Smith. While it was fun to read, it also had a rather forced quality to it, as though the author wasn't quite certain that it would work or not.
Second Thoughts by Elsa A. Solender
There is one incident in Jane Austen's life that has created some mystery, namely her very brief engagement to be married. Here the author tries to fill in the blank. It's rather well-written and works in this case.
Each writer at the end of the story has given a brief statement of where and what inspired the story. Some of these are just as interesting as the finished tale. In addition to this, there are brief biographies of the judges and writers at the end of the book, which are useful for tracking down other works by them.
If you do decide to read this, I suggest finding either a used copy or borrow it from the library, unless you are very much a fan of Jane Austen. A great deal of this is what would be called 'fan-fic,' and sadly, as with most such writings, not too good. Still the few gems in here, including the winning entry, are fairly good and give some interesting turns and looks at both Jane Austen, and the books and characters that she created.
So, given the mixed and rather varied quality of this, I give this one three stars. It's not great, and honestly, mostly not that good, but the few stories that really work at it do succeed. Enter at your own peril. Only somewhat recommended, and best left to those who really do enjoy Jane Austen's novels.
Many thanks to Books CL Dramastef for adding this to the database for me!
Dancing with Mr. Darcy: Stories Inspired by Jane Austen and Chawton House
Sarah Waters, editor
2009; HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.