For biting satire, this is Jane Austen at her best. For storytelling, her other works are much stronger. There’s not much I can say about Jane Austen that hasn’t been said before and I have no intention of using this review for an in depth critical analysis of the text, so I’m just going to tell you what I liked about this satirical take on the gothic theme.
More than any of Austen’s books, this one conveyed to me a living, breathing sense of what life was like in Bath during the Season. Albeit through prose which is some of Austen’s most sarcastic, nonetheless she really conveyed the crowded, bustle-filled social whirl that was Bath. The initial description of Catherine’s arrival and first sortie out to the Upper Rooms, where they knew no-one, had a familiar ring to it. I loved her cutting sarcasm, she became more restrained in later novels (possibly as her writing and storycrafting also became more refined).
Where this book was let down was in the story itself. Entertaining though Austen’s dissection of Bath, the social structure of the day and the predominant fashion for gothic novels was, ascerbic and hilarious, it came at the expense of a truly absorbing story. There was no great romantic pairing, no Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy. I didn’t feel in any way invested in our heroine and her romantic interest tale. If I was being uncharitable, I might even go so far as to say that I felt this novel was at times nothing more than a scaffold to enable Austen to vent spleen on her least favourite aspects of the society of the day.
On balance, I liked the book – it was an enjoyable read but it was far from my favourite Austen novel.