Lady Susan by Jane Austen

Short and sharp…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

The recently widowed Lady Susan Vernon is forced to cut short her stay at Langford when the lady of the house, Mrs Manwaring, becomes jealous of Lady Susan’s flirtation with Mr Manwaring. Off she goes to Churchill, the residence of her late husband’s soft-hearted brother, Mr Charles Vernon, and his sensible wife, Catherine. But soon Catherine is worried that Lady Susan might have got her well-manicured claws into Catherine’s brother, Reginald de Courcy, and she’s also concerned about Lady Susan’s young daughter, Frederica, whom Lady Susan is determined to marry off to an unsuitable young man against her will…

Written entirely in letters between the various friends and family members, this novella length story is full of fun. Lady Susan is so wicked one really feels the need to hiss whenever her name is mentioned, and Catherine is a delightful contrast in her general sense and good nature. While the men are all taken in by Lady Susan’s undeniable beauty and charming manners, Catherine rarely wavers in her opinion of her as a manipulative schemer and an uncaring mother. Maternal Catherine is determined that Frederica must be saved from her mother’s manipulations, but the rules of society preclude any open hostility between the two women. The only time Lady Susan drops her bewitching guard is in her letters to her dear friend, Mrs Johnson, a woman unfortunately married to an older, inconveniently respectable husband, a situation Lady Susan deplores…

“My dear Alicia, of what a mistake were you guilty in marrying a man of his age! Just old enough to be formal, ungovernable, and to have the gout; too old to be agreeable, too young to die.”

A comedy of manners in which Austen spares no character from being a target for her sharply observational wit, this is of course much slighter than her major novels, with far less room for in-depth characterisation and a simple plot that moves quickly towards an end that is relatively obvious from an early stage. While the epistolary style adds to the fun, especially in Lady Susan’s letters to her friend when her true personality is revealed, it’s also limiting in that there’s not much room for description or for commentary on the wider society of the time. On the other hand, this makes it deliciously short, so that it can be gulped down and enjoyed in one sitting.

Part of me would have loved to have seen Austen develop these characters more deeply in a full-length novel, but I’m not sure the slight story could have borne the weight. As it stands, it feels like the perfect length for the story it tells. And Lady Susan deserves to take her place alongside some of the other major victims of Austen’s lethally wicked pen – Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mrs Bennet, the Eltons, et al. Pure pleasure!

Book 9 of 20

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TBR Thursday 250…

Episode 250

A huge drop in the TBR this week – down 3 to 205! The plan of reading all the shortest books is beginning to pay off. It’s so exhilarating!

Here are a few more that should slide off soon…

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

The Old Buzzard Had It Coming by Donis Casey

It was exciting this week! For quite a while there was no clear leader and then gradually the eventual winner pulled away from the field and slowly developed a commanding lead. From the comments, many of you were attracted by the title. Me too! I’m sure that’s what made me buy it way back in 2015. Intriguing choice, People! I plan to read and review it by the end of October.

The Blurb says: Alafair Tucker is a strong woman, the core of family life on a farm in Oklahoma where the back-breaking work and daily logistics of caring for her husband Shaw, their nine children, and being neighborly requires hard muscle and a clear head. She’s also a woman of strong opinions, and it is her opinion that her neighbor, Harley Day, is a drunkard and a reprobate. So, when Harley’s body is discovered frozen in a snowdrift one January day in 1912, she isn’t surprised that his long-suffering family isn’t, if not actually celebrating, much grieving.

When Alafair helps Harley’s wife prepare the body for burial, she discovers that Harley’s demise was anything but natural—there is a bullet lodged behind his ear. Alafair is concerned when she hears that Harley’s son, John Lee, is the prime suspect in his father’s murder, for Alafair’s seventeen-year-old daughter Phoebe is in love with the boy. At first, Alafair’s only fear is that Phoebe is in for a broken heart, but as she begins to unravel the events that led to Harley’s death, she discovers that Phoebe might be more than just John Lee’s sweetheart: she may be his accomplice in murder.

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Short Stories

Thirst by Ken Kalfus

In recent years, Kalfus has become one of my favourite authors and I’m gradually working my way through his back catalogue. This was his first collection of short stories, I believe. This, and the next two books, are all from my 20 Books of Summer list…

The Blurb says: Distinguished by black comedy and an international perspective, Ken Kalfus’ stories frequently fold into each other and are most often about the abrupt dislocation of people bumping into different cultures, be they real, hallucinated, dreamed, or desired. His characters — which include an endless line of refugees fleeing Sarajevo with no particular destination, an Irish au pair plagued by her own psychosexual fears in a Paris science museum, and an entirely fictitious baseball league — are constantly thumping their heads against a shifting reality. Kalfus’ sympathetic portraits of human beings caught in the tectonic cultural shifts that disrupt our lives are frequently hilarious, consistently touching, and powerfully creative.

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Vintage Crime

The Spoilt Kill by Mary Kelly

After a little spate of books from authors they’d previously published, the BL seems to be back to adding “new” authors to their list, and it’s always fun not quite knowing what to expect. I like the idea of that corpse in the clay!

The Blurb says: Shentall’s, a long-established institution of the Staffordshire Potteries industry, is under attack. With its designs leaked to international competition and its prices undercut, private investigator Hedley Nicholson has been tasked with finding the culprit of the suspected sabotage.

But, industrial espionage may just be the beginning. Delving further into the churning heart of Shentall’s Pottery, Nicholson’s prying is soon to unearth rumours of bonds cruelly smashed to pieces, grievances irrevocably baked in stone and a very real body, turning and turning in the liquid clay.

First published in 1961, The Spoilt Kill received widespread critical acclaim and praise from contemporary crime writers such as Julian Symons. It was awarded the CWA Gold Dagger and remains a finely crafted masterpiece of the crime genre.

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Classic Fiction

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

Given my lifelong love affair with Jane Austen, I can’t think why I’ve never read this before. Time to correct that omission!

The Blurb says: Beautiful, flirtatious, and recently widowed, Lady Susan Vernon seeks an advantageous second marriage for herself, while attempting to push her daughter into a dismal match. A magnificently crafted novel of Regency manners and mores that will delight Austen enthusiasts with its wit and elegant expression.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

PS New laptop arriving later so I’ll catch up on comments and your posts once I’m up and running – might be later today, might be three weeks on Tuesday, depending on how quickly I can get it all set up. If you hear loud sobbing coming from a northerly direction, send me chocolate! Typing on my old lappy has become nightmarish now that I have to bang repeatedly on the “y” key every time I need to use it. Have you ever tried writing reviews using only words without a “y” in them? It’s reall, reall annoing, I can tell ou!