The subtitle of this book really says it all: 'An imaginary sequel to the novels of Jane Austen'. And not just any sequel, one of the dozens which are released every year, no, this is the first published Austen sequel, from 1913. In Old Friends and New Fancies (love the title BTW!), Brinton intertwines the lives of characters from each of Austen's six major novels. The main characters are three ladies left unmarried at the end of their 'own' novels: Georgiana Darcy, Kitty Bennet and Mary Crawford. All three will fall in love and will feel the pangs of being kept apart by social or economical tensions.
Apparently, it is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen's novels must be continued! I don't remember how I found out about this early sequel, but I'm very glad I did and got to read it. This is a lovely read for every Austen fan, if only for the joy of seeing all your favourite characters meet each other. Because, let's face it, every Austen fan has sometimes thought: if only character A could meet character B.... In Old Friends and New Fancies this happens, a lot. So much so, that maybe there are too many characters in this book. People trying to read this, who do not know Austen's novels well, will probably get lost quite easily. I didn't have that problem myself, but still; it is a crowded story.
One of the heroines of Old Friends and New Fancies is Mary Crawford. A surprising choice maybe, because wasn't she sort of a villain in Mansfield Park? Brinton definitely doesn't paint her like that, more like misunderstood and even a bit shy. I don't think she really did justice to Mary Crawford as the complex character that Austen created, she felt rather bland and generic here. Georgiana, however, I very much liked in this story. She is the character which we see most of her inner live and therefore easiest to identify with. Her doubts and feelings are believable, both as a young woman in general and as the Georgiana we know from Pride and Prejudice. Her love story is quite sweet (though I did see the mishap coming way before Georgiana did!), though maybe a little less believable. I don't want to spoil who she'll end up with, but I think that it's beyond the scope of even Austen's love for socially unequal couples.
The style of the novel is relatively close to Austen's, more so than many modern sequels I've read. It is not as sharply funny as Austen herself, but the conversations and letters sound like they belong in Regency times. All in all, it's a light and fun read which I recommend to everyone who likes Jane Austen's works.
As a side note, I listened to this novel via LibriVox (which offers free audiobooks of classic novels). While I'm grateful that I could 'read' this book for free that way, the chapters are recorded by many different readers, not all of them in very good English, which is rather distracting. So, I recommend finding this novel another way (the Kindle version is only $0,99 on Amazon!)
Has any of you guys read this Austen sequel? I'm curious to know your thoughts about it and especially about the couples Brinton created!