When I was half way through Northanger Abbey
I was thinking:
“Upon my word! Half way through the book and nothing notable seems to have transpired! I was expecting Miss Austen to supply greater felicity than she has managed thus far and once again receive my complete approbation! I do declare I am awfully vexed.”
I really don’t know why I keep coming back to read Jane Austen books when they are not really suitable for my taste (if I can lay claim to possessing any). In most novels I read the stakes are very high for the protagonist, the entire world (if not the universe) is in peril and needs saving, or at least the poor guy or girl is having a very hard life and is going through the wringer to eventually emerge triumphant. Jane Austen’s characters seem to lead much more leisurely lives going for long walks and dinners, falling in and out of love and eventually falling back into love on a permanent basis. Her plot always seem fluffy and inconsequential to me. If you are an Austen fan please do not take offense, we can not all like the same thing, and I am not complete unaware of the lady’s charms.
The only Jane Austen novel that I really like is [b:Pride and Prejudice|1885|Pride and Prejudice|Jane Austen|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320399351s/1885.jpg|3060926], not surprisingly her most popular book. I have now read five of her novels and “Pride & Prej” remains the only one I would rate at 5 stars (I have to admit I have forgotten practically everything about [b:Sense and Sensibility|14935|Sense and Sensibility|Jane Austen|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1397245675s/14935.jpg|2809709] including the plot and the characters, [b:Emma|6969|Emma|Jane Austen|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1373627931s/6969.jpg|3360164] I remember quite well because of the movie Clueless.Northanger Abbey
started quite well with the story of Catherine Morland’s early childhood, how she is something of an ugly duckling and a tomboy. I though this is an interestingly unconventional Austen heroine. However, by the next chapter she is grown into a pretty young lady and it is business as usual; but at least she has a fondness for gothic novels, [a:Stephen King|3389|Stephen King|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1362814142p2/3389.jpg] would have been right up her alley. As I was “reading” this book in audiobook format on my commutes to and from work (an hour’s journey each way) I actually dozed of now and then as Catherine goes on long walks and dinner parties with her friends. I do reverse back to most of the parts that I dozed through though (I may have missed a few paragraphs’ worth). Even when I was awake some of the narration went into one ear and out the other as my mind wandered. In all fairness Northanger Abbey
is not a boring book when I can concentrate on it I find it quite amiable and not at all unpleasant.
Anyway, things pick up considerably after the middle of book when Catherine arrives at the eponymous Northanger Abbey. I quite enjoyed Henry Tilney teasing her about the spooky goings on at the abbey in an amusing parody of gothic fiction of the time. Catherine’s “adventures” at the abbey, rummaging through things, skulking about, imagining a “murder most foul” are also tremendously mildly entertaining. Unfortunately her life was not even close to being in danger at any time and no animals were harmed during the production of this book. Her faux-pas (which I won’t elaborate upon), triggered by her overactive imagination, is also understandably mortifying.
Still Northanger Abbey
is no [b:Wuthering Heights|6185|Wuthering Heights|Emily Brontë|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1388212715s/6185.jpg|1565818] and nothing horrible really happen, after one or two timidly spooky scenes the niceness of Austenverse reasserts itself and things work out just fine for Catherine. Is this a spoiler? Surely not! Catherine Morland is not [b:Tess of the d'Urbervilles|32261|Tess of the D'Urbervilles|Thomas Hardy|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1358921541s/32261.jpg|3331021] which I suppose is comforting if you are reading Jane Austen. At least I never thought I would see the word “Necromancer” in one of her novels, that made me chuckle.
Austen’s protagonists are usually likeable and Catherine is no exception, however, she is no Elizabeth Bennett, I find her a little too scatterbrained and too much of a wet blanket at times. As for her love interest Henry Tilney, he seems to be an Austen stock love interest character, a plot device rather than a fleshed out character. Catherine's BFF Isabella Thorpe starts off as an average chatterbox bestie character, but her subsequent gold diggery makes her much more interesting (if less appealing), her brother John seems like an ill-mannered oaf throughout, I kind of like him, his loutishness is good for a giggle.
Come to think of it perhaps I do know why I keep coming back to Jane Austen, it is not to recapture the magic of [b:Pride and Prejudice|1885|Pride and Prejudice|Jane Austen|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320399351s/1885.jpg|3060926] but to enjoy her orchestration of the English language. With Jane Austen even if you don’t like the story you can still soak up the lovely and elegant narration.
Dammit I just put [b:Mansfield Park|45032|Mansfield Park|Jane Austen|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1397063295s/45032.jpg|2722329] on my reading list, somebody stop me!
Note on the audiobook
This is another free Librivox audiobook read entirely by Ms. Elizabeth Klett who has done a gracious and beautiful job. As with [b:A Room with a View|3087|A Room with a View|E.M. Forster|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1388781285s/3087.jpg|4574872] she read the narration in her native American accent and the dialogues in English accent. I think a little bit of America slips in now and then but over all she did a tremendous job and her voice is nice and soothing (which is probably why I dozed off at times).