BOOK REVIEW: Jane Austen The Complete Novels In One Sitting by Jennifer Kasius

“So pour yourself some tea (in a real teacup and saucer, of course), bring the settee near the fireplace, and settle in to delight in Jane Austen’s world – in just one sitting.” – (Page 12)

Let’s be clear about one point first and foremost – I am not a big fan of “summarised” versions of Pride and Prejudice. And yet, for some reason, I love this teeny tiny handbag-sized volume that was published in 2012. It’s the perfect little gift, published by America’s ‘Running Press’, and is more than just a quick recount of the novels events, including gorgeous little illustrations and details about Jane Austen’s life and times.

Even though the picture here is quite an awful blue, the hardback is actually a slightly more muted pastel baby blue, and design credits go to Amanda Richmond, and to editor Cindy De La Hoz. ISBN: 978-0-7624-4755-8

Jennifer Kasius, who wrote the book and is editorial director of the publishing company (she also edited Skinny Bitch), has done a good job with keeping the general tone of the book light but not dumbed down, and in fact her introduction is one of my favourite parts of this miniature volume. Kasius writes “It’s generally known that her novels are all about love and marriage. But on closer inspection they explore even more.” She explains that this is a guide, a refresher, for when you need your Austen fix.

I bought this one a while back from Better Read Than Dead in Sydney’s Newtown (I think it came to around AU$15 although I don’t doubt it can be found for cheaper elsewhere), and I found it easily worked its way into my suitcase to Melbourne and regularly my Pride and Prejudice tote bag. It’s a god-send. Particularly as I’ve come to a new city with about three books (over the past two months this is now solidly in the 20-something range and growing), and regularly find myself in need of a cup of tea and some good, solid Jane-therapy. I adore the illustrations, which some from a number of different collections and that other Austen fans will likely recognise.

I don’t think this is a great ‘introduction’ to Austen, as I often say many of the summaries are, but rather something seasoned Janeites will enjoy. A criticism, which is a result of the size of the pages, is the cutting of single words between two lines using a dash. This makes it very difficult to read (imagine your brain reading out ‘let-‘ and then ‘ter’ on the next line). I also found that the character sketches are a little ‘SparkNotes’ in feel.

If you like the concept, you’ll be happy that it’s also there for a number of other beloved authors. Running Press, under the Perseus Book Group, have a number of other editions including the Brontes, Hardy etc and then we have Shakespeare and Sherlock Holmes. They’re the perfect size for my little hands (it appears publishers and I often disagree over how mini a book needs to be in order to fit the ‘minibook’ classification, but this does it perfectly – a good thing considering they’re trademarking ‘Miniature Edition’) and a small piece of comfort when I need it.

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