From the desk of Jenny Haggerty:
Open any of Jane Austen’s six completed novels and you’re guaranteed a moving story told with wit and insight, but what fan doesn’t wish Austen had time to complete more books. That’s why I treasure well done Austen-inspired fiction, so when I discovered Ann Mychal had written Brinshore, her second Austen themed book, I was full of hopeful anticipation. Mychal’s first novel, Emma and Elizabeth, is among my favorite adaptations. It completes Austen’s intriguing unfinished novel The Watsons by telling the story of two Watson sisters, Emma and Elizabeth, daughters of an impoverished clergyman. The girls were raised separately under very different conditions but reunited when they were both young ladies. Brinshore continues the tale, this time focusing on their daughters Emma (named after her mother) and Anne, and it takes its inspiration from another of Austen’s novel fragments, Sanditon.
Cousins Emma Osborne and Anne Musgrave could not be more different in temperament. Emma is an outspoken girl, direct in her opinions in the mode of her Mr. Darcy-like father, Lord Osborne, while Anne is a gentler, nature-loving soul who goes into rhapsodies over a piece of seaweed. Neither girl has experienced the hardships of their mothers because both of those women married well. The novel opens in 1816 so the wars with Napoleon are over and Captain Charles Blake will soon be returning to their community, a circumstance that Emma awaits with much excitement.
The end of the wars also means that people are ready to enjoy themselves more, and in that spirit the girls’ utterly practical, unromantic Aunt Harding (reminiscent of Charlotte Collins) shocks everyone with a big announcement. She’s decided to sell the Chichester house she shared with her now-deceased husband to move to Brinshore, a tiny seashore town not far from Sanditon, and she’s inviting both her nieces to come to stay with her. Anne is excited right away–the seashells she can collect! The tide pools she can sketch! But Emma is indifferent, she’d rather go to more fashionable Brighton, until she learns that Captain Blake will be spending time in nearby Sanditon.
Emma has known Charles Blake since childhood, he was like a big brother to her, but while he was away at war she’s fallen in love from afar. He’s beneath her in station, but that’s not a problem. While her grandmother hopes she’ll marry an earl or duke, her parents treasure their own loving relationship and would approve the match if it would make Emma happy. The problem resides in Charles himself. He is so good-natured and affable to all that it’s difficult to determine if he returns Emma’s affection in kind. Plus he seems to have a lot more in common with Emma’s equally amiable and nature-obsessed cousin Anne, a situation Emma is blind to.
Add to this mix Mr. Fitzroy, who is working with Charles Blake on some mysterious, yet to be disclosed project. He and Emma bump heads immediately, almost literally, when Emma steps into the street without looking and is practically knocked down by his gig. When she demands that he take note of her now muddied frock he responds, “Charming, though a little too fancy for shopping.” He believes she’s spoiled; she thinks he’s rude. Unfortunately (or not?), they’ll encounter each other again and again through their connection with Charles Blake.
There are thrilling intimations of Austen throughout the story, including characters and well-known lines from her novels, but Emma hasn’t read any of Austen’s books. When Mr. Fitzroy gives her a copy of Pride and Prejudice she at first has no interest, assuming by its title that it’s a book of moralizing sermons, maybe by Mr. Fordyce. Because she’s attractive, clever, rich, and tries her hand at matchmaking, Emma Osborne has qualities in common with Austen’s more well-known Emma, which can make her a little hard to love sometimes (Austen described her Emma as a character that no-one but herself would like much), but her boldness leads to acts of courage and compassion, and she’s certainly no snob, so she won my heart.
Mychal’s book also has some of Austen’s wonderful humor. Emma’s Aunt Harding, for instance, is as besotted with Brinshore as Mr. Parker from Austen’s Sanditon is of his town, and the two of them compete ridiculously in this book, each scheming to make their chosen locale the next hot spot. Austen assumed her readers were aware of the historical circumstances of her stories since they were written during the time that they were set, but I enjoyed all the explicit touches of history Mychal adds to her story.
Witty and entertaining, Mychal has breathed new life into a novel remnant Austen had to leave incomplete, creating a story with appealing characters, complicated courtships, emotion tugging family dynamics, a solemn deathbed promise, and a deeply satisfying ending. Add to all that the scenic beachside setting and I’m happy to report Brinshore pleased me as much as its predecessor, more even because of the added pleasure of catching up with old friends.
5 out of 5 Stars
Brinshore: The Watson Novels Books 2, by Ann Mychal
J G Books (2015)
Trade paperback & eBook (280) pages
Cover image courtesy of J G Books © 2015; text Jenny Haggerty © 2015, Austenprose.com
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