Friday, 7 August 2015

Review | Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen


by Jane Austen

My Rating:

During an eventful season at Bath, young, naïve Catherine Morland experiences the joys of fashionable society for the first time. She is delighted with her new acquaintances: flirtatious Isabella, who shares Catherine's love of Gothic romance and horror, and sophisticated Henry and Eleanor Tilney, who invite her to their father's mysterious house, Northanger Abbey. There, her imagination influenced by novels of sensation and intrigue, Catherine imagines terrible crimes committed by General Tilney. With its broad comedy and irrepressible heroine, this is the most youthful and and optimistic of Jane Austen's works.

I have to be honest: I'm not the biggest fan of Jane Austen. I know, I know, it's practically blasphemy! For heaven's sake I'm British and I even studied English Literature at uni, but Austen's never been for me ever since I was introduced to her via Persuasion during my A Levels. In the past year or so, however, I've wanted to give Austen a second chance, because I felt as though I was missing out on something. Was I just not reading her right? How was it that everyone in the world seemed to love her except me?

So earlier this year, when I got my kindle, I downloaded a free copy of Northanger Abbey as, out of all her novels, it sounded like the one I'd enjoy the most. And I wasn't wrong, I did - oddly and unexpectedly - find myself enjoying it, but ultimately I still came away disappointed.

For me Northanger Abbey started out strongly. I think I needed a little more time to grow before I could fully appreciate Austen's writing style, and when I began reading Northanger Abbey I did actually find sections of it funny - I've never found Austen funny before! 

I loved Austen's deconstruction of heroines and how, through Catherine, she poked fun at the previous heroines so often seen in Gothic literature and fairy tales. It was also fun to read about another avid reader, one who reads so avidly the novels she loves most taint her view of the world. I think all of us, in our younger years, have been guilty of hoping to stumble across a murder or a mystery or some tragic story whenever we've visited a house or hotel that looks even remotely old and haunted. At times her imagination did go a bit wild and she was a little irritating, but I'm pretty sure I was a huge pain in the arse when I was eighteen, too.

Plus as much as Austen pokes fun at Catherine, she's not really criticising readers. Catherine might be wrong in accusing General Tilney of murdering his wife, but she's not wrong about him - he's a bit of a twat.

I did quite like Henry Tilney, too; I thought he was funny, and I'd much rather have a funny male lead than a dark and brooding one. Hence why I've never really found Mr. Darcy that appealing.

However, the longer the book went on (and it isn't exactly a long book) the more it seemed to lose its way. One thing I've noticed about Austen's work is that she tells more than she shows. I know some people love this because they love seeing Austen's personality and snark bleeding through the pages, but after a while I just found it tiresome. I want Austen to be an author, not a commentator. The most frustrating thing is she tends to explain and tell the juiciest parts of her stories! I want to read conversations between the characters in the final scenes of the novel, not read paragraphs and paragraphs of Austen telling me what happened. It almost felt like I was reading a novel, and then suddenly all that was left were Austen's notes for the rest of the book that she hadn't written out yet.

So, 3 stars for Northanger Abbey. I didn't dislike it and I did enjoy the first half, but unfortunately I don't think Austen's writing style is ever going to be for me, and at least now I know that for certain. I am looking forward to watching the 2007 adaptation, though!

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