I am a Janeite. I should probably get that out of the way to start with, since, for most of this book, I felt like Deresiewicz was preaching to the choir. Yes, I got everything he was saying about Austen; there wasn’t anything new. That said, it was enjoyable to read about her work from the perspective of a convert to her work, and an educated — Deresiewicz ended up writing his English doctoral dissertation at least partly on Austen — one at that.
Deresiewicz weaves his personal story of a 26-year-old, single, angsty Jewish male with analyses of all six of Austen’s books, giving each book a theme that helps him through a time period in his life. He doesn’t go chronologically with her works, but rather in the order that he read them, and with the book that fit with a particular time period in his life. It’s a book about Austen, yes, but it’s also a book about Deresiewicz’s growth as a person, and the role that Austen played in that.
Having read all the novels many times, he didn’t really say much that I didn’t know. I’m not sure I’m going to look at her novels in a new light now, or anything like that. Perhaps, if I were less than an avid fan, I would have (I also want to give this to the guy at work who disdains all “chick fiction,” calling it “fluffy” and beneath his notice). At the very least, Deresiewicz succeeded in reminding me why I adore Austen.
For me, this was a delightful romp through familiar land: watching someone come to a realization that Austen and her small, domestic dramas and comedies really do hold valuable lessons for the rest of us, even 200 years later.
Rated: Moderate for two f-bombs and assorted other language.