I am a huge fan of the works of Jane Austen. I've regularly reread her novels, I've watched the film adaptations with varying amounts of pleasure, and I've read books on the background and historical period of her times. But one aspect of the Jane Austen fan world that I've tried to avoid is the attempt by modern writers to tack on sequels to the stories.
They just don't plain work.
This time, however, I was in for a surprise with Susan Kaye's None But You, which takes the story of Persuasion, and tells it from the point of view of Captain Frederick Wentworth, and when he meets again the woman he tried to woo and win for himself, Anne Eliot.
It's been eight long years since Frederick Wentworth once romanced Anne Eliot. But the courtship ended in failure, with the baronet's daughter rejecting a lieutenant's proposal, and Wentworth returned to shipboard life in the Royal Navy. Now the long wars with Bonaparte have ended, and with his ship being decommissioned, Wentworth now has the rank of Captain, and a sizeable fortune made from raiding French ships. Now he has to wait, until he's either retired from the service, or a new ship is found for him to command.
Very much at loose ends, Captain Wentworth accepts an invitation to join his sister, Sophia and her husband at Kellynch Hall -- the very place where he had tried to win Anne Eliot. Now it seems that the proud family has fallen on hard times, and Wentworth thinks that Anne has gone on to marry someone of her own class and station. Despite being wracked by memories of her, seemingly everywhere he turns, Wentworth gets down to the serious business of considering his future, and one that just might include marriage. There are several young ladies of good breeding for him to consider, especially the various Musgrove girls. But in being so close to the Musgroves and Kellynch Hall, he also starts to discover that he might have been mistaken about everything -- a doubt that gains strength when he meets Anne again...
This has turned out to be one of the most enjoyable novels that I've read this year. Susan Kaye has done a considerable amount of research for this, for along with building a reasonable past and back story for Wentworth, she also has managed to bring vivid pictures of the naval life, as well as daily living among England's well-to-do families. The dialogue, while partially lifted from Austen, still manages to sound right for the times, without the oh-so-common slippage into modern slang that most authors make the mistake of. The narrative does drag in spots, but in a way, that's part of the charm of this story -- we get the feeling that time is passing, that these two wary souls are rediscovering each other, and that there might be the possibility of a future together.
Persuasion is my personal favourite of Jane Austen's novels, and Susan Kaye has done a wonderful job of recreating the story in a new light. It's clear that she has a great deal of respect for Austen's work, and she's smart enough not to let the temptation of 'updating' the story to come through. Many of the secondary characters get to tell a bit more of their own story, and even though Wentworth's ruminations do get a bit too long in spots, they also help to make him a more human person -- we can certainly sympathize with his mistakes, and his own quiet determination to make things right.
No, this is not Austen, and frankly, it's not that close to Austen. But it is a very satisfying read, and Kaye tries to stay within the times and more importantly, the thinking of the period. The novel does end on a cliffhanger ending, and will be continued in the next book of this two part series, For You Alone, due to be published in 2008.
Four and half stars, rounded up to five. Highly recommended.