Not Just Jane
By Shelley DeWees. (Harper, 336 pages, $15.99.)
Shelley DeWees loved Jane Austen and the Brontës, but still she wondered: Weren’t there other female writers in their day? So began the British lit teacher’s voyage of discovery, which brings us “Not Just Jane,” a fun and fascinating look at seven women who made their mark before sinking into obscurity.
Any of these ring a bell: Charlotte Turner Smith, Helen Maria Williams and Mary Robinson, poets and political radicals? Dinah Mulock Craik and Mary Elizabeth Braddon, smash hits with the middle class? Catherine Crowe, one of the first detective storytellers? Sara Coleridge, pioneer in fantasy lit?
Unlike our now famous Jane, all were prosperous while they lived. Some married; some didn’t. Most were rebuked for flouting the clear rules for well-born women: Get yourself married and keep your opinions to yourself.
DeWees covers a lot of ground quickly, depicting all seven writers and their work in about 300 pages. Still, she manages to dish tales of dalliances with royalty, drugs and other dangerous behavior that help us see how much was stirring outside the pages of Austen and the Brontë sisters.
To Name Those Lost By Rohan Wilson. (Europa Editions, 267 pages, $17.)
Fierce, brutal, brilliant, beautiful — it’s hard to find enough superlatives to describe this hard gem of a novel by young Australian novelist Rohan Wilson. With a piercing literary prowess that brings to mind the prose of Cormac McCarthy, Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad and William Faulkner, but ultimately becomes his exceptional own, he catapults us into the vicious, impoverished world of a colonial town in Tasmania of the 1870s, where an bloody uprising is underway.
Amid the chaos, a bedraggled ex-convict named Thomas Toosley desperately searches for his motherless 12-year-old son, all the while being stalked by the equally murderous Fitheal Flynn, who is accompanied by a terrifying hooded figure. The latter are bent on vengeance for reasons that emerge in the course of a story that also turns out to be about parental legacies that include murder and love.
This is a novel you’ll stay up all night reading for its suspenseful plot, then find yourself wanting to do a forensic rereading the next day to more closely examine and admire its exceptional literary power.