David Liss, gothic fiction, Jane Austen, JK Rowling, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Mary Wollstonecraft, Susanna Clarke, The Austen Project, The Casual Vacancy, The Twelfth Enchantment, Top Ten Tuesday, Val McDermid
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is “Ten books for readers who like ____”. I thought carefully about how to fill in that blank, with my first choices (Harry Potter, epic fantasy, etc.) resulting in many of the books I posted about last week. I decided on Jane Austen for something a little different.
1. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. This is one of those books that I don’t read very often, because it’s huge and Clarke writes in an era-appropriate manner (read: it’s slow going), but when I have the time I love to revisit it because it’s just so beautiful. Set in an alternate version of early 19th-century England, in which magic has all but died out, it chronicles the lives and relationship of the only two practicing magicians in England. It takes a while to get into – Jonathan Strange doesn’t even appear until several hundred pages in – but once you get into it it’s well worth the read. Austen fans will appreciate the wry humour and Regency setting.
2. Evelina, by Frances Burney. First published in 1778, Evelina is similar in many ways to Austen’s novels, providing social commentary through the eyes of a naïve young woman making her social début.
3. Humphry Clinker, by Tobias Smollett. This is another 18th-century social satire. It’s more blatant and somewhat ruder than Austen, but if you like her social commentary and criticism of her society you’ll likely appreciate Smollett’s use of the same.
4. The Twelfth Enchantment, by David Liss. Like Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, The Twelfth Enchantment is set in a magical version of early 19th-century England, and the politics and social issues of the era play a key role in the story.
5. The Casual Vacancy, by J. K. Rowling. This might seem like something of an odd choice, being a contemporary novel, but it is in many ways Austen as she would have written today; it is the tale of one community and the relationships its inhabitants have with one another, and how their prejudices and viewpoints shape those relationships.
6. & 7. Mary: a Fiction and Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman, by Mary Wollstonecraft. While better known for her treatise, A Vindication on the Rights of Woman, Wollstonecraft wrote two novels critiquing the treatment of women in 18th-century British society. Unlike Austen, she does not shroud this critique with balls and country walks; these stories are grimmer and more depressing, but still worth reading if you appreciate Austen’s criticism of the limitations placed on women in her world.
8. Northanger Abbey, by Val McDermid. The Austen Project involves six contemporary novelists rewriting one of Austen’s novels in the modern era. So far, three have been released, and of those three the only one I have read is Northanger Abbey. I’ve read mixed reviews about Emma and Sense and Sensibility, but I can say with confidence that Northanger Abbey is an excellent book, and if you’re interested in a Catherine Morland who reads about vampires at the Edinburgh Book Festival, this one’s for you.
9. The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe. This is the only book on this list I haven’t read myself, but it’s long been on my TBR largely because of the role it plays in Northanger Abbey. It is one of Catherine’s favourite books, and its prominence in her mind drives her perceptions of General Tilney and Northanger Abbey.
10. The Castle of Otranto, by Horace Walpole. Often considered to be the first gothic novel, this book is well worth a read for anyone interested in learning more about Catherine Morland’s favourite genre.