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I think this is probably my least favourite Jane Austen book, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t still a little pearl. I’m re-reading it for the Open University course that I’m about to start (and that you will no doubt be hearing much more of in the coming months), as it is quite a while since I last re-read it.

Whilst the novel was her first to be written it was her last to be published (eventually posthumously), which made many of the references seem strangely out of date to its first readers, but obviously this is not something that bother readers now. However, it is more than any of Austen’s other books a novel of its time. It ruthlessly parodies through imitation the gothic craze of the late 1700s, and holds up to comment and criticism some of the other well-known novels of the time.

And it makes clear what Austen thinks (and I must agree) the novel can do. When commenting on the common downplaying of the role of novels that was current then, “‘Oh! it is only a novel!’ replies the young lady….only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language”.

And  Austen does all this through the eyes of Catherine Morland, a young and innocent woman, with none of the particular traits of a heroine. And yet she is heroic in her own way. Through her friendships in Bath she learns the worth of true friendship and a little judgement. In her experiences at Northanger Abbey she learns how to curb her romantic leanings and exercise restraint, and in her courageous response to the actions of General Tilney she shows that greater wealth may not show the better breeding.

Through this runs the normal Austen romance of a young women and her pedagogic older man; Henry. Yet this is not quite the normal romance, because Catherine is not as intelligent a character as Austen’s other heroines. For example, Lizzie, Emma and  Marianne all have more spirit than Catherine, they are not as ‘wet’ and I think it is easier for modern women readers to empathise with them and their follies, rather than the rather childish ones of Catherine. And at times her naivety with regard to Isabella appears beyond belief.

But these are minor criticisms. The novel is a delight, and sets the tone of the classic Austen wit, irony and understatement that we all love so well. I’m sure it will be a pleasure to study it in more detail.

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I requested Trespass via my library’s ebook system, when I spotted the Booker long-lister during an idle browse. I then had to wait my turn long enough to find out that the book hadn’t made the short-list, a decision that I agree with. It’s a carefully crafted book, but one, strangely enough given the topics it deals with, that didn’t raise much emotion in me.

Set in the south of France, the novel explores the ties of the land and our relationship with nature, alongside the damaging effects of human relationships. Aramon Lunel occupies the family’s old noble farmhouse, while his sister Audrun is relegated to a modern, inelegant bungalow on the edge of the land. Both they and their relationship are damaged by the memories of incest, forced on Audrun and encouraged in Aramon by his Father who shared in it. 

Into this seething mix comes Anthony Verey, a has-been dealer of antiques who, through his own dependent relationship on his sister, is thrown into proximity with the farmhouse, and wants it, to buy a new beginning for himself. Aramon’s and Anthony’s greed (for different things) collide with Audrun’s love and ties to her land and ancestry. The resulting fallout destroys Anthony’s sister, Veronica’s relationship with her mediocre but loving Kitty, and her dream of creating a home for herself in France.

But the novel just didn’t move me. It was very carefully crafted: an exploration of the damage that families can do, especially pathological ones, and how that can reverberate down the years. And the imagery of the countryside, and the sense that one often gets when reading about the Irish connection with the land, of a oneness with nature, of the land and it rhythms mattering to the human cycle of life, is wonderfully depicted.

I found it though, too carefully crafted. It was no thriller, but it wasn’t a mystery either. The story unfolded, each piece building tightly on the other, and there was no sense of wonder, no shock and awe, just the laying out of a thought through plan. It may have been meant that way, but for me it wasn’t quite enough.