The Making of Jane Austen
By Devoney Looser. (Johns Hopkins University Press, 304 pages, $29.95.)
Was she a feminist? A satirist? A lightweight? You see all those images of Jane Austen in pop culture and academia. Twin Cities native and Austen scholar Devoney Looser takes a closer look at the motives behind those definitions in “The Making of Jane Austen.” Looser (pronounced Loh-ser) dives deep into the record to unearth little known facets of Austen’s much explored life. She looks at early illustrations of her books, plays based on her life, the screenplays and textbooks and even the protest banners carried in women’s suffrage marches. “For more than a century, Austen has been an inspiration, role model and mascot for groups that otherwise have little in common,” she writes.
While parts of the book might appeal more to academics, the general reader will enjoy the quirky characters and details Looser brings to light. Did you know Aldous Huxley went from writing "Brave New World" to punching up the screenplay for the Lawrence Olivier version of “Pride and Prejudice”? Or that Austen supposedly wrote from beyond the grave, thanks to an American spiritualist? Such fun factoids pepper this scholarly study of Austen’s evolving legacy.
By Alison Moore. (Biblioasis, 203 pages, $14.95.)
Shortlisted for the prestigious Man Booker Prize, “The Lighthouse” is a puzzling, melancholy tale that is likely to leave readers conflicted. Its characters are flat, flawed or hopelessly doomed, yet Alison Moore paints them with careful precision, producing an atmospheric story that stands out far more for its tight and provocative writing than its curious plot.
The story follows two characters. There is Futh, a hapless and perfectly forgettable British man who, after his ill-planned marriage falls apart, decides to take a hiking vacation through Germany to shed his sorrows and get a new perspective on his life. And there is Ester, a German hotelkeeper who cleans and runs the gritty establishment that Futh has chosen for his home base while on holiday. Ester is as gloomy and unsatisfied as Futh, but she feeds her boredom with casual sex with men other than her husband — a jealous brute who tends bar at the hotel. The husband sees some coincidental signs and wrongly concludes that Futh and Ester are going at it right under his nose.
One of Futh’s only meaningful belongings is a pilfered heirloom from his fractured family: a tiny silver lighthouse that he carries in his pocket, fingering it as muses over his next poor decision or reflects on the emptiness of his life. Leaving the trinket behind before one day’s hike, it is gone when he returns.
The story is laced with metaphors of smell — perfumes and odors wafting in and out of the characters’ memories — and ends abruptly punctuated with one. It’s an unsettling ending but somehow fitting for this odd story.
As a short drama but not a quick read, “The Lighthouse” is well worth a risk. Closing its pages may leave you perplexed or even unsatisfied with the plot but richer from the evocative writing and originality that Moore brings to it.