I’m new to the novels of Mhairi McFarlane and am definitely captivated. Speaking as a lifelong, voracious reader, what makes McFarlane’s novels stand out are that they not only fulfill my wish for uplifting reads, but also, and quite impressively, they pair a feel-good, laugh-out-loud romantic comedy vibe with an exploration of some very complex and painful issues. Sounds like a difficult feat to pull off, right?
It is, but Mhairi McFarlane does it beautifully and believably. After all, I cannot imagine any real-life happily ever after being attainable without facing some pretty tough and unpleasant truths about ourselves, others, and the choices we make.
Mhairi McFarlane brings her protagonists to a state of deep realization and wish for change, and in so doing, brings them to a well-earned happiness. Sort of like what I get from reading my favorite uplifting, self-revelatory author, Jane Austen. It’s all relatable and resonant. And hugely entertaining.
Can’t wait to read the next one!
On Twitter, someone asked for book recommendations for Austen fans, and what came to mind was not a continuation, a sequel, or an inspired-by. It was JULIET, NAKED by Nick Hornby.
Nick Hornby is my idea of a contemporary Jane Austen. So is Zadie Smith, particularly her novel ON BEAUTY. Both authors make profound observations of human nature, give us romance without sentimentality, have a divine sense of humor, and are simply master storytellers. In my writing workshops I inevitably read passages from both Hornby and Smith.
For me, Hornby’s JULIET, NAKED brought to mind some of the online discussions that occur amongst Austen’s most devoted readers. A central premise of the book is that no matter how much the admirers of an artist’s work examine that work, study it, parse it for meaning, and become “experts,” they can never acquire irrefutable proof that the creator felt a certain way or had a particular type of experience at the time she created it. Bottom line is that it’s nothing more than speculation. And speculation is often wrong. (more…)
If any of my fellow storytellers deal with writer’s block from time to time, here’s some fun help. Fun help? That’s right. See you in the playground.
Photo by Marion Michele on Unsplash
Photo by Sneha Chekuri on Unsplash
Can self-importance, meddling, and delusion be considered superpowers?
Hardly. And yet, the self-congratulating and clueless titular heroine of Jane Austen’s Emma rises above being the character that Austen thought that no one but herself would like. In the course of the story, Emma has a series of aha! moments about herself. More important, she acts on that self-awareness.
via GIPHYAlicia Silverstone in Clueless, a brilliant adaptation of Emma.
In a Jane Austen novel, a lady can only earn her cape by acknowledging that are are huge cracks in what she once thought was the truth.
Once she tears down that wall of delusion and replaces it with wisdom, the heroine-in-training develops more self-awareness, more self-empowerment, and more capability to create happiness than she ever had before. That is what Emma does. For that is what Austen superpowers are all about. (more…)
Anne Elliot: A quiet force to be reckoned with.
Lizzy Bennet may be the one with all the flash and sparkle, but one should never underestimate one of Austen’s more reserved heroines, Anne Elliot of Persuasion.
Ciaran Hinds as Captain Wentworth and Amanda Root as Anne Elliot in “Persuasion,” directed by Roger Michell
At first glance, Anne may not seem to fit the typical ideal of a cape-wearing, save-the-day superhero, but let’s take a closer look at Miss Anne:
Austen Superpower 1: Grace under Fire.
Who had the presence of mind that no one else had when Louisa Musgrove fell from the Cobb at Lyme?
That’s right; Anne Elliot did. Everyone else was wailing and flailing while she was the voice of calm and reason in the midst of the emergency. She was the one who gave Captain Wentworth calm and rational directions as to how to help Louisa. (more…)
We dream of them. We want to be them. We wish they were our best friend. Or our partner. And sometimes, we wish we could shake some sense into them.
They are Jane Austen’s heroines and heroes. Each of them has a flawed humanity, but each also has a unique and special quality—an Austen superpower, if you will.
Which is why they are so eminently relatable. Like them, we too are flawed. And like them, we have those same superpowers. They may be hidden away where we cannot see them, but they are there neverthless. All we have to do is believe.
How do we do that? By following the lead of Austen’s leading ladies and men, who dig down deep within themselves to access their own superpowers.
In this first of a series of posts, we turn to the heroine who is perhaps the most beloved of all: Elizabeth aka Lizzy Bennet of Pride and Prejudice.
via GIPHY (more…)
Does the following sound familiar to you?
You’ve found the perfect certain someone for your friend, neighbor, colleague, or other unsuspecting acquaintance. There’s just one small problem: Said friend has told you that no way, no how is he/she interested in that perfect certain someone. And yet, you know better–just as you always do. Just as Emma, the eponymous heroine of Austen’s novel, always did.
Hold on a minute. Did Jane Austen write two versions of Emma? Or could it be that you, like Emma, are turning into the queen of know-it-all? Heaven forbid. After all, look what happened to Emma. She very nearly totally screwed up her life. But never fear. We’ve got a little game for you to play. It’s called “Emma, Reformed Matchmaker.” All you need to do is follow the rules:
On the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, what better way is there to honor this extraordinary author than to give thanks for what she has left us? For me, her work is a timeless guide to living life in the no-BS zone, wrapped in an infinitely re-readable set of six novels.
If I could assign a motto, a credo to the the Austen canon, I would say it could be summed up in this one line from Pride and Prejudice: “Disguise of every sort is my abhorrence.” The fact that Mr. Darcy delivers this line while in the midst of a serious marriage-proposal fail makes it even more resonant: Darcy may be honest, but the brutality of his honesty indicates that he’s hiding behind his angry pride. He’s yet to unmask that part of his own disguise, but being an Austen hero, we know that he will.
That’s the genius of Austen, who calls out her characters on their disguises and their dishonesty. Which leads them to their moment of revelation, their grand character arc, and their ultimate reward–love and happiness.
Along the way, Austen makes us laugh, which makes the hard truths easier to bear. And thus we can begin to see ourselves in it all.
That’s Austen: keeping us real and calling us out. She’s been doing it for 200 years. And that’s no small feat for someone who lived in a society in which polite demurrals, refusals, and denials were a socially mandated matter of form.
Here are 10 gems of Austen wisdom to help you reach your own character arc.
1. A real friend is the one with the guts to tell you the ugly truth.
In Emma, Mr. Knightley was the only person with the courage to tell Emma that her treatment of Mrs. Bates was cruel. Emma was shocked and chastened. And set about making amends. Which also put her on the road to realizing that Knightley’s bossiness was maybe just a little bit attractive; no scratch that, super hot.
Welcome to the first of a multi-part series of posts on how to lift yourself out of the blues, Austen style.
Perhaps it’s just that kind of day. Or year. Bottom line: you feel like crap. Friends, there is a cure to what ails you, and her name is Austen. Her magic comes in many forms, and this series of posts will illuminate, in no particular order, what you can do, with almost no effort, to feel light and bright and fabulous!
Today we’re feeling the fairy dust from Northanger Abbey.
What? You’ve heard it’s frivolous? Not as polished as Austen’s later works? Balderdash. But wait—didn’t its original publisher accept it and then couldn’t be bothered to publish it? Just means that dude was an idiot. And anyhow, you’re too wise to waste time caring about what other people think. Because if you did care, you wouldn’t be dressing in Regency-era costumes (or wondering what it would be like to do it). You wouldn’t be going to (or imagining) fun things like the Jane Austen Festival in Bath or your local ECD get-togethers (not OCD, ECD, and that stands for English Country Dance). And you definitely wouldn’t be saving up for (or wondering what it would be like to go to) ComicCon. I could do a whole series of posts on the cross-pollination between Austen fans and sci-fi fans, but I digress…
If you’ve ever thought that love passed you by, or you’re just feeling blue, do something nice for yourself: read Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. In the Austenian tradition of “three or four families in a country village,” author Helen Simonson takes a keen-eyed look at the flaws and glories of human nature and the never-ending quest for love.
Major Pettigrew is a relic of polite gentility in a brash world, a lonely widower getting by with what passes for friendships in his little Sussex village. He takes comfort in his books and his garden and his memories, and now and again indulges in the vain hope that his clueless London-banker son will someday grow a conscience. The rest of life is just, well, as Miss Austen put it, “a quick succession of busy nothings.” And then, a simple act of kindness from Mrs. Ali, proprietress of the village convenience store, changes his life forever.
I won’t say more, except to encourage all who have ever wished for a second chance at life to run out and buy this triumphant, life-affirming novel. It is one that I know I will re-read many times. (BTW right now the Kindle edition is only $1.99)
And happy Valentine’s Day.