Friday, June 20, 2014

Little Gems

It's so often surprising where the good ones pop up from.  I mean, random shelf browsing has a pretty reliable 25-45% return rate (in my completely made up statistical experience), but when it comes to a category--nun books, Regency romance--a random choice is not necessarily the best way to get the job done. 

The world of Jane Austen follow-ups is a big one, ranging from retelling her original stories from alternate points of view to sequels or spinoffs of minor characters.  Roaming the aisles at the library, I saw something called A Visit to Highbury by Joan Austen-Leigh, and the author's name caught my eye.  The fact that it was actually Jane's great great grand-niece didn't actually promise a good book, but I liked the notion of the owner of Harriet Smith's boarding school having something to say.

And somehow, this book is incredibly charming.  At first I was waiting for it to get all modern--for one of the new characters to turn out to be a hustler of some sort.  But no, it's just a really nice little story, told in the form of two sisters who haven't seen each other in years corresponding.  Mrs. Pinkney is unhappy in London with her new husband, who is not sociable enough for her tastes, so takes up writing to Mrs. Goddard, the schoolmistress who is watching the events of Emma unfolding in her village.  Mrs. Goddard relates village gossip; Mrs. Pinkney tries to get to know her husband.  Mrs. Goddard has servant problems; Mrs. Pinkney befriends a young neighbor.  People are cranky and selfish and shy and whatever other flaws people have, but they stretch themselves and become better. 

This is just one of those books that is lovely.  Just lovely and charming and dear, in its small and domestic way.  It makes me very happy to be reading it.

No comments: