Sunday, 14 November 2010

The Three Weissmanns of Westport

I was looking forward to reading Cathleen Schine's novel The Three Weissmanns of Westport because it's a contemporary novel which mirrors the characters and events of Sense and Sensibility. It was a New York Times bestseller and has had some very positive reviews in the UK press. I was hoping for a novel with the sophistication of Karen Joy Fowler's The Jane Austen Book Group but sadly I was disappointed.

The novel begins with the wealthy Mr Weissman telling his 75-year old wife he wants a divorce and she must leave their beautiful New York apartment. A gregarious cousin offers her a run-down cottage in Westport overlooking Long Island Sound. Betty's two middle-age daughters, Miranda and Annie, decide to move with her to escape their own troubled lives. The impetuous and romantic Miranda has seen her literary agency which specialises in 'misery memoirs' fail spectacularly and sensible Annie is suffering from empty nest syndrome now her sons have left home.

Of course, Annie represents Elinor Dashword, Miranda is Marianne, Betty Weissman is Mrs Dashwood and the sociable cousin Sir John Middleton. Marianne's accident in Sense and Sensiblity where she twists her ankle and is rescued by the handsome and unreliable Willoughby is transformed in this novel into a kayaking accident where Miranda is rescued from the sea by an equally handsome and unreliable younger man and an unlikely romance blossoms.

Of course, it's fun for Austen nerds like me to spot the similarities between this book and Sense and Sensibility and the novel certainly has its moments but I'd much rather read the original!


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry this was a bit disappointing. I think it is so hard to write a good Jane Austen based book, although I do think that generally I like modern retellings better than the follow-ups to Austen's novels. Personally, I remember disliking the Jane Austen Book Club a lot, maybe I should reread it sometime, but I don't know..

Can I ask which editions of Jane Austen novels those featured in your pictures are (the Sense and Sensibility here and Persuasion in your sidebar). They are incredibly beautiful!

Frisbee said...

I think I'll skip this one. She is a good writer, though, and I have enjoyed some of her books very much.

Carolyn said...

I looked at this one, but wasn't that interested. I read The Cookbook Collector, another one loosely based on Sense & Sensibility and really enjoyed it. (The Marianne character gets a job in an antique bookshop) I also really liked The Jane Austen Book Club when it came out, I found the allusions to Austen's novels very subtle and fun to spot.

Anonymous said...

I was terribly disappointed by The Jane Austen Book Club. On the whole, I don't like Austen spin-offs but I enjoyed Being Elizabeth Bennet, which was quite funny.

Karen K. said...

I've rarely found an Austen sequel/prequel/retelling that I've liked -- I think the most successful was the movie Clueless! I think I do better with characters who are somehow inspired by Austen, like Dancing With Mr. Darcy, the new story collection. I also thought the Lost in Austen miniseries was hilarious -- not the book of the same title, which is totally unrelated and silly.

Jessica said...

I did look at this one but it looked a bit light for my tastes. I also didn't realise it was a re-telling.

potterjotter said...

I tried The Jane Austen Book Club, but its still sitting there unfinished. I would rather read the originals over and over - I always find something new in them - than read these spin-offs... kayaking accident indeed!

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

What a shame -- it's difficult to enjoy some of the Austen based books, but I like to dabble in them every now and again. The originals, of course, are always much better.

Incidentally, I picked up Hotel du Lac based on your review -- I credited this find to you on my Mailbox Monday post. Many thanks, and will let you know what I think once finished.

Shelley said...

You're right to be disappointed. I'm a writer, but I would never presume to riff on an Austen book.

It's like on American Idol when the judges scold a contestant by saying, "That song was too big for you."

Austen's too big.

Vintage Reading said...

Iris, I know the JA Book Club wasn't everybody's cup of tea, but it just struck a chord with me! I invested in the Everyman's Classics a couple of years ago - there are seven including Sanditon and they were expensive at just over £10.00 each but they have pride of place on my bookshelf!

Frisbee, I wouldn't mind reading more Schine if you could recommend a title.

Carolyn, it was the Marianne character that so annoyed me in the book. She was ghastly whereas Marianne in S&S is sweet and loving. I'll look out for the Cookbook Collector sound intriguing.

callmemadam, I'm not keen on JA sequels, prequels, retellings or zombie versions, but I'm willing to try another one so I'll look out for the title you mentioned.

Karen, I agree with your thoughts on sequels and prequels. I thought the JA Book Club tried to do something a bit different and admired it as such.

Jessica, Schine has some interesting, intelligent and amusing thoughts on divorce and family life, but it would probably have been a better novel without the S&S structure.

potterjotter, yes, I think JA's genius is that you can find something new in the work everytime you read it and at different stages of your life.

Coffee and a book chick, I do hope you enjoy Hotel du Lac and I will check out your review!

Shelly, heh.'that song was too big for you' Exactly. No one does Austen like Austen.