Hello! Today marks the last few stops on the #Janeite blog tour for Diana Birchall’s new Austen Variation, The Bride of Northanger, stopping here with a review (waves!) and also a spotlight at My Love for Jane Austen. Many thanks and hugs to Laurel Ann of Austenprose for organizing the tour and visit her review and kick-off post for a list of other participating blogs for interviews and more reviews.
A happier heroine than Catherine Morland does not exist in England, for she is about to marry her beloved, the handsome, witty Henry Tilney. The night before the wedding, Henry reluctantly tells Catherine and her horrified parents a secret he has dreaded to share – that there is a terrible curse on his family and their home, Northanger Abbey. Henry is a clergyman, educated and rational, and after her year’s engagement Catherine is no longer the silly young girl who delighted in reading “horrid novels”; she has improved in both reading and rationality. This sensible young couple cannot believe curses are real…until a murder at the Abbey triggers events as horrid and Gothic as Jane Austen ever parodied – events that shake the young Tilneys’ certainties, but never their love for each other…
Diana Birchall’s new sequel to Austen’s Northanger Abbey opens the night before Catherine Morland’s wedding to Henry Tilney as Henry arrives at the Morland family home to dutifully inform them that the Tilney family appears to operate under a curse: that the wife of the eldest Tilney son will die young (apparently the family was cursed during the Dissolution). Catherine, now rid of her youthful flights of fancy, dismisses this so-called curse. Henry is, of course, the second son and furthermore, as rational, modern people, they don’t believe in curses. So Catherine and Henry marry and settle into a pleasant life at the vicarage…until General Tilney (and his ominous wedding gift) summons the young couple to a strange dinner party at Northanger Abbey. This sets off a year full of mysterious events, ghostly sightings, and deaths worthy of Catherine’s horrid Gothic novels.
And those deaths are firmly in the realm of gruesome twists of fate, serving up grisly demises for several familiar characters. Birchall made an interesting choice in this novel, to both attempt the ironic tone Austen used when poking fun at Gothic fiction and go full-Gothic at the climax of the plot. It starts out very light, with Catherine enjoying married life and expanding her reading – and education – by reading works of philosophy and history under Henry’s direction. Even the initial trip to the Abbey stays on the lighter side with a glimpse of a possible ghost to tickle Catherine’s imagination. The plot, though, begins to delve into horrors that steadily pull away from the recreation of Austen’s tone. In one scene Catherine is made to sit a vigil over a dead body since no one else from the family is available to do it and the sequence of events is quite unnerving, far more so than searching a cupboard to find a mysterious document (which turned out to be a laundry list) or speculating whether General Tilney killed his wife. Each further mishap gets a bit more squicky-making. (Sorry about the vagueness, but there are quite a lot of twists to the plot that I’m trying to avoid spoiling.) The plot of The Bride of Northanger is much closer to a true Gothic novel in the vein of The Castle of Otranto or The Mysteries of Udolpho than Austen’s lively send-up. If you’ve read any of the Gothics that Catherine so enjoyed then you’ll recognize a number of the plot elements.
The book reads quite well. I took it with me on a short trip and read almost the whole thing on a two-and-a-half hour plane ride. It was fun to see so many of the original characters again, so despite my wish to have a bit more Austenian irony and a few less deaths it was quite enjoyable.
The Bride of Northanger is out now!
Dear FTC: I received a review copy of this book via the blog tour organizer.