Category Archives: Novellas

Sanditon, Lady Susan, & The History of England, Jane Austen

Sandition, Lady Susan, etc., Jane AustenSanditon, Lady Susan, & The History of England by Jane Austen

First Published: Posthumously – Writen c.1786-1817

Pages: 504 (Hardback)
Form: Collection of juvenilia, short stories, and unfinished novels

Rating: 3/53/53/53/53/5

This rare collection is a must for all Jane-ites. It represents what Richard Church regarded as Jane Austen’s literary work-basket, and contains some of Austen’s earliest work – her hilariously brief History of England, illustrated by her favourite sister, which is a worthy forerunner to 1066 & All That, to the unfinished Sanditon, the novel of her maturity on which she was working at her death aged 42. Also included are two epistolary novels, Lady Susan and Love and Freindship (sic), The Watsons, Catherine, Lesley Castle, Evelyn, Frederic and Elfrida, Jack and Alice, Edgar and Emma, Henry and Eliza and The Three Sisters.

The History of England is illustrated by Cassandra Austen

While I  thought Lady Susan was absolutely greatI would probably only recommend  Austen’s juvenilia and her later unfinished novel to people who are really interested in Austen and her development as a writer. Personally (and although a fan I’m not an Austen worshiper) I thought the juvenilia was absolutely fascinating and would have loved to see the finished versions of the two abandoned novels. If that sort of thing doesn’t interest you, though, and you want a completed story then just go for Lady Susan or give this book a miss completely and stick with Austen’s published novels. Continue reading

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Once Upon a Crime, Michael Buckley

Once Upon a Crime, Michael BuckleyOnce Upon a Crime by Michael Buckley
Illustrated by  Peter Ferguson

First Published: 2007
Pages: 272 (Hardback)
Form: Novel
Series: The Sisters Grimm #4

Rating:

For the first time since their parents were kidnapped, Sabrina and Daphne Grimm return to their hometown, New York City, to find Puck’s family. But the fairy-tale detectives get more than they bargained for in the Big Apple: wand-wielding fairy godfathers, swashbuckling Wall Street Pirates, subway-stealing dwarfs, and, worst of all, hidden among these urban Everafters, a murderer.

This isn’t the city Sabrina remembers, the place where she spent happy, normal days with her family. Even her memories of her parents aren’t safe. As the sisters Grimm investigate the death of an important Everafter, they learn that their mother kept a secret from them that might lead to the heart of that evil organization, the Scarlet Hand.

Like the rest of the series, it’s the little moments in this book, rather than the slightly predictable mystery plot, that makes this stand out. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great little series and I have a lot of affection for it, but it’s the small things – the way fairy tale (and now literary) characters have been modernised, eg. Scrooge from A Christmas Carol becoming a medium – that I really enjoy. The mystery itself, as in previous books, remains predictable, something a bit of deductive reasoning and ‘who would benefit from this crime?’ sort of common sense would solve quite quickly – not helped by the cover kindof giving a big part of the game away as well. But whether you guess it or not, it’s a fun ride and there are lots of new characters, expanded world-building, and amusing cameos to enjoy. And a bit more light gets shed on the big mystery of Sabrina and Daphne’s parents disappearance and the sinister ‘Red Hand’.

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The Aspern Papers AND The Turn of the Screw, Henry James

The Aspern Papers and The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Introduction by Anthony Curtis

Publisher: Penguin Classics
Pages: 270 (Paperback)
Form: Novellas

Rating:

The two tales in this edition, The Aspern Papers and The Turn of the Screw, reveal at its finest James’s genius for creating a world out of a single incident and charging it with unforgettable dramatic tension.

A story of ‘spoils and stratagems’, The Aspern Papers is set in a crumbling Venetian palazzo, where an old woman treasures up some letters sent to her by the great American poet Aspern. When a zealous literary historian arrives and attempts to prise the letters from her, he finds his charm, ingenuity and morals stretched to breaking point.

‘It is a most wonderful, lurid, poisonous little tale,’ wrote Oscar Wilde of The Turn of the Screw, James’s most puzzling and controversial work. In the story of a governess newly in charge of two small children, haunted by ghosts, our imagination is miraculously set free to conjure up terrors never precisely named, or explained.

This is (hopefully) going to be a pretty short review as I’m only going to focus on The Aspern Papers. Anyone interested in my thoughts on The Turn of the Screw, I already reviewed it here but essentially my thoughts boil down to ‘overrated and underwhelming’. The Aspern Papers, thankfully, was a story I got on a lot better with – though to say I actively enjoyed it is probably going a bit far. It was interesting and far more thought-provoking and challenging than I found The Turn of the Screw – more on that later – but I still found elements of it incredibly irritating. Continue reading

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The Turn of the Screw AND Owen Wingrave, Henry James

The Turn of the Screw and Owen Wingrave by Henry James
Afterword by David Stuart Davies

Publisher: Collector’s Library
Pages: 213 (Hardback)
Form: Novellas

Rating:

Henry James was the master of the psychological ghost story, and his gripping novella The Turn of the Screw is his most terrifying achievement. The governess charged with the nurture and education of two young children in an old isolated house in the country becomes convinced that they are being haunted and corrupted by two evil spirits. She is alone in her belief, and as she fights desperately to save their souls she fears for her own safety, while James seductively raises doubts in the reader’s mind about the governess;s sanity. Are the ghosts merely a figment of her tortured imagination? This complex scenario reaches it’s most dramatic and frightening of climaxes.

Also included in this volume is a lesser known tale of haunting, Owen Wingrave, which not only raises questions about ghosts but also about the nature of fear and courage.

Beautifully constructed and chillingly realised, these two tales are amongst the finest examples of the ghost story genre.

Looks like it’s unpopular literary opinions time! And as a self-proclaimed lover of gothic fiction and a massive fan of ghost stories this is going to be even more blasphemous. So here goes: I don’t think The Turn of the Screw is very good. I didn’t find it scary, I didn’t find it exciting, I didn’t find it atmospheric or tense or any of those other descriptions people use for this book and I didn’t find it either surprising or thought-provoking. After all the hype surrounding this novella, all the praise for Henry James as a master of the ghost story, I’m afraid I rather found myself feeling supremely underwhelmed by it. That’s not to say I thought it was ‘bad’ or that I actively ‘disliked’ it – it was certainly interesting to read it knowing how much of a classic it is and how well discussed certain aspects of it are, but as a story it did pretty much nothing for me and left me feeling, if anything, rather neutral.  I got on a little better with the second, much lesser known, story in this book, Owen Wingrave. But neither story, I would say, are ‘among the finest examples of the genre’.

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