Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Book Comparison: New Moon and Persuasion

Persuasion   *****
by Jane Austen

New Moon (Twilight Saga #2)   *****
by Stephenie Meyer

I am about to attempt the impossible – I’m going to review two very different books by two VERY different authors in two very different time periods. That’s not the hard part. The hard part will be showing a correlation between the two. Mission: Accepted.

Most people are probably familiar with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. Even if they’ve never read the books, they are aware of the scene where Mr. Darcy (actor Colin Firth) takes a dip in the pond (I haven’t read P&P in a while, but I’m pretty darn sure that Jane didn’t write that).

Slightly less-well-known is Jane’s last completed work, Persuasion. This is the story of Anne Elliot, a sensible young woman who was “persuaded” to let the love of her youth go, only to meet him again eight years later. Then she gets to watch as all the young girls flirt with him and all their married acquaintances guess which of the young girls he’s going to end up marrying.

This book, as many that were written in times past, may be a bit difficult to get started; the language and style are very different than what we’re used to today. And it doesn’t help that the first few pages seem dry. But the opening is actually an introduction to Jane’s snarkiness. Poor Anne isn’t just past her prime without the love of her life, she also has to deal with her ridiculous and vain father, a conceited older sister (both of whom think Anne isn’t worth their time or concern), and a hypochondriac younger sister. Jane brilliantly and scathingly writes these characters; they’re deliciously awful.

Snarkiness aside, this story (for me) can be summed up by a few lines toward the end of the story:

I believe you [men] equal to every important exertion, and to every domestic forbearance, so long as—if I may be allowed the expression, so long as you have an object. I mean, while the woman you love lives, and lives for you. All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone.

In other words, Anne never stopped loving her Captain.

You do have to work more for this book than most fluffy romance novels, but it’s worth the effort. The only problem I had with it, and it’s a minor one, is Jane’s habit of naming multiple characters by the same first name. This may be true to the times, but sometimes it’s hard to figure out which Charles she’s referring to in a given scene.

Next up, a tale as old as time: Boy meets girl. Boy falls for girl. Boy fears he will eat girl, so boy dumps girl. Girl mourns loss of boy. Girl befriends werewolf. Girl has to rescue boy (who happens to be a vampire). And they lived happily ever after (at least for a few weeks).

Yes, that’s right, I’m talking about Stephenie Meyer’s New Moon, the second book in the Twilight Saga (if it's a "saga," you know it's gonna be angsty) and recent blockbuster hit. The first book in this series has our two main characters, Edward and Bella, meeting and falling in love. In New Moon, Edward is afraid that he or his family will be overcome by Bella’s tasty scent and, alas, kill her. So, for her sake, he leaves (thus making this the least favorite book in the series for thousands of teens). Bella, deep in depression, finds that extreme activities and her good buddy Jacob are the only things that make her feel a little better. And then she finds out that Jacob turns into a giant wolf and is the archenemy of all vampires. Mayhem ensues.

So how in the world can I possibly compare Jane Austen’s sensible heroine and her sea captain with a high school girl and her vampire and werewolf??? The answer: angst.

What draws me to Meyer’s books is the all-encompassing angst. Sometimes, maybe when the weather is gloomy or you’ve had a bad day or week, you just want to read something where you can have a good mope. And there is no better book from this series than New Moon for excellent mope-age: the whole world revolves around you and getting dumped means the end of everything. Poor Bella is practically comatose for the first half of the book, all because the love of her (short) life is gone.

Anne, however, doesn't get to be comatose. Anne has to take care of her family and their estate. She has to watch as her love comes back to town and courts younger, prettier women. Anne can't show her pain to anyone, but the reader experiences it and hopes, longs, and yearns for her love to be requited.

Bella, like Anne, lost her love. They both have their happily ever afters, and in between, they have their angst. In Jane Austen’s world, so much can be said by a single look or gesture. In Stephenie Meyer’s world, the pain and joy are more visceral. But in both you can find a good love story. (Good being entirely subjective, of course.)

So if you’re looking for a good angsty book, I’d recommend both Persuasion and New Moon. Which one just depends on the kind of angst you’re in the mood for.

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