Sunday, August 22, 2010

Southhappy Convent

I'm took part in a read-along group hosted at Reading with Tequila. For four weeks we read 'together' and blogged about what we thought. I know I'm over a week late in posting, so I think I'll just review the full book instead of only focusing on the end chapters.

Catherine Morland is a heroine. You know, one of those unfortunate girls who have to deal with awful families, are locked up in castles, or have to overcome deadly plots, but manage to power through it all and fall madly in love with an extraordinary boy? Only problem is her family is lovingly ordinary. Oh, and she lives nowhere near a castle. And she doesn't seem to have anyone plotting against her. And none of the boys around town seem to be anything extraordinary.

And, what's more, Catherine is lacking the heroine's mind and skill. She's never attended to animals or plants, music evades her interest, lessons come at a normal speed, drawing is merely doodling, and she has never once known something inherently.

But all that could should will change when family friends Mr. and Mrs. Allen invite Catherine along on a trip to Bath. Surely this is the adventure she's been waiting for. These two will soon prove to be wicked, and she'll be locked up and finding her handsome hero in no time!

...Or they could be two very agreeable people who bear the girl no ill will and have only her best interests in mind.

Drat. Well, if her companions are set on being agreeable, she'll just have to find a dreadful situation to overcome. Surely there should be plenty of those in Bath! Shouldn't there?

I loved the parody aspect of the novel. It's supposed to be a play on the popular Gothic novels of the time period (early 1800s), which is what Catherine longs to star in. Personally, I couldn't help but think of Twilight (and its parody, Nightlight) as the subject for comparison. You've got to admit, besides taking place in Forks, there are a lot of Gothic qualities in Twilight. But that novelty wore off quickly enough once you got into the meat of the story (well, except for the similarities between Catherine and Bella). Still, it was still easy to chuckle throughout, especially when Catherine's imagination runs away with her.

I found Catherine simply marvelous. She's a bit of an airhead throughout the book, and everyone (save for the less intelligent Mrs. Allen) knows it. Though I'm normally not a fan of the ditsy protagonist, Catherine was in-character for the entire novel, which made her all the more endearing. Where some characters are stupid one moment and suddenly brilliant the next, Catherine managed to slip through all her problems with the same air of innocence and simplicity throughout. So, while I may have liked a little more of a head on her shoulders, at least she was consistent.

But Henry Tilney more than makes up for Catherine's fluff-for-brains. He's charming, intelligent, kind-hearted, and humorous. Forget Darcy; give me a man who has a sarcastic wit any day! Granted, there are times where he's a little too intelligent for his own good, especially with politics (yawn/gag), but he shuts up without too much fuss. Definitely my favorite Austen man so far!

The pacing of the book was pretty good overall. Surprisingly enough, Northanger Abbey doesn't play a prominent part in the book. In fact, it takes more than half the book to even mention the abbey, let alone get there. The story still works, but the title and the summary are a bit misleading in that respect. Really, it's just your standard Austen romance with less politics and mess.

Every so often there were small interruptions in the narration by the author. No, it wasn't overly descriptive, it was the author actually making statements and referring to herself as "I". The first time I encountered it, I had to go over it again and make sure I was reading it right. Once the shock wore off, the little rant was actually enjoyable. But each time the author poked her nose into the narrative, it had the same jarring effect for me. The worst came at the end, when she's actually giving her reasons for writing it thus. Frankly, I'd rather she'd kept out of it and just let the story continue.

Another complaint I had was the ending. It was far too rushed. So much so that I wasn't even sure what was happening. Austen narrated a summary of the resolution in 2 pages...and it was over. With all that build-up, I would have liked something fuller, involving the characters, and not the author. I don't know if it was because it was her first novel, or if it was perhaps another rip on the Gothic. Either way, it didn't satisfy in the least.

Overall, I'd read it again. Sure, the ending was a let-down, but the rest of the story was a lot of fun. The characters are endearing, the villains are fun to hate, and the plot isn't too horribly run down by details and etiquette. If you're a fan of Austen, of Twilight, or of romance, you should definitely give a couple hours to this one.

Approximate Reading Time: 5 Hours