The thing that strikes me finally is not so much the difference in style, but in intent.
I've read three of her Austenesques--Mansfield Revisited, Eliza's Daughter, and now Jane Fairfax. My memory on the first is fairly shadey--it was short, it's been almost a decade, and I only remember bare plot bones. But the latter two are--well, in a very understated way, fairly depressing.
The intent, with Jane Austen, seemed to be getting the characters into a fairly happy place. Or a really happy place, now that I think about it--they all marry the love of their lives, and go about it in such unimpeachable and improbable and fun ways. And you will never convince me Jane Austen wasn't mocking something with Mansfield Park. The lives they made were the ones they wanted, and were the right ones for them, and they were happy. Aiken--comes at it from a completely different perspective. There's a sense of melancholy, all the things lost along the way, with shadows of regret and unhappiness, without Austen's ability to refocus her characters on a brighter future. Eliza was bad enough--that one still pisses me off in a variety of ways--but Jane's was just annoying and frustrating. I was bitter on Jane's behalf--it's not enough she's an orphan, it's not enough she's a penniless orphan--now Colonel Campbell has to be a benevolent asshole and they live with a harridan of a mother-in-law and an unpleasant governess! And Emma when they meet is alwasy referring to Jane's impoverished childhood! And Jane has to fall in love with the guy who marries her bestest freind Rachel for her money and because their families really really want it. And she has a hopeless passion for Mr. Knightly! And she accepted Frank Churchill in a moment of profound despair for all her friends leaving! And by the end of the book, she feels alienated from the Campbells, and she's maybe sort of going to do well with Frank and she and Emma bitterly mourn that they will never get back the years they lost. And--I mean. Wow. The way I tell it sounds overly dramatic and kind of romantic, but Aiken is--that's the thing. She's not a romantic.
Ooh. This now makes sense.
Austen was a romantic at the end. She wanted her characters to be happy. Sometimes the journey was weird and painful, but by God, they would get the husband of their choice or else. Aiken goes about it very businesslike, very simply, very much like Austen except in that key difference--she does nto want these characters happy. Content with regret. And considering in Emma, Jane Fairfax's romance with Frank Churchill was like the uber forbidden romance? This just cheapened it. It was frustrating. It was all--Gah. I'm pissed on Jane's behalf. I'm kind of pissed on Frank's behalf. I'm fairly annoyed with how she characterized Emma--but I also hated how she characterized pretty much everyone else and every freaking character in Eliza's Daughter.
Wow, I'm kind of bitter.
And on a lighter note: Suspense and Sensibility and North by Northanger by Carrie Bebris.
These are light, frothy, kind of cute, and pretty unmemorable once you're done read. These are the second two--I havent' read the first one yet, as Amazon has it on backorder and I am bitter. But okay.
They are not Austenian. They also don't fill me with inchoate rage either. Each book is a mystery that Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth have to solve to get through the plot, meeting other Jane Austen characters along the way. Suspense and Sensibility has Mr. and Mrs. Darcy taking Georgiana and Elizabeth's siter Kitty to London for a season to look for a husband, where they meet Harry Dashwood, son of John adn Fannie Dashwood, nephew of our heroes Elinor and Marianne, all grown up and looking for a wife. He and Katherine fall in love, etc, become engaged--then he starts goign crazy! It's really fun, though the ending left me slightly unhappy, since honestly, the kid so did not deserve what happened to him, and it ended happily enough, but still. DID NOT DESERVE. Okay. Supernatural stuff, Elizabeth's sixth sense and sensitivity to Other Forces, etc. It's not bad, but only if you really want light and frothy.
North by Northanger is Darcy! TRICKED! Accused of a crime! And we meet the Tilneys, and revisit the vile Isabelle and John Thorpe, and God, so much Lady Catherine, and Wickham wiht even more arrogance than you can imagine, and it's more fun. Supernatural stuff involving statuettes, a mystery, letters, and possibly Lady Anne's ghost. Oh, and a baby. Fun reading.
Now to wait for the first one.
I can't find the books right now to cite author but Letters from Pemberly and it's sequel? Not recommended. Boring. Oh God so boring. And more derivative than badfic. She like--I don't know how--she managed to publish boring, bad fanfic. The Pemberleans at The Republic of Pemberly could do better on a bad day. It was--I mean, sure, irreproachable editing, and all the verbs were right, but it was like reading a grocery list. Also, it says something that I got through both books in two hours. I mean--seriously. Eww.
Seriously, the racy--I'm using the word racy, how sad is that?--ones I read earlier this year beat out everything else by far.