Mrs Bates of Highbury by Allie Cresswell
The new novel from the Readers’ Favourite silver medalist.
Thirty years before the beginning of ‘Emma’ Mrs Bates is entirely different from the elderly, silent figure familiar to fans of Jane Austen’s fourth novel. She is comparatively young and beautiful, widowed – but ready to love again. She is the lynch-pin of Highbury society until the appalling Mrs Winwood arrives, very determined to hold sway over that ordered little town.
Miss Bates is as talkative aged twenty nine as she is in her later iteration, with a ghoulish fancy, seeing disaster in every cloud. When young Mr Woodhouse arrives looking for a plot for his new house, the two strike up a relationship characterised by their shared hypochondria, personal chariness and horror of draughts.
Jane, the other Miss Bates, is just seventeen and eager to leave the parochialism of Highbury behind her until handsome Lieutenant Weston comes home on furlough from the militia and sweeps her – quite literally – off her feet.
Mrs Bates of Highbury is the first of three novels by the Amazon #1 best-selling Allie Cresswell, which trace the pre-history of Emma and then run in parallel to it.
I’m a huge Jane Austen fan, having read all her novels several times, and some more times than I can remember. When it comes to an author’s canon of work, much beloved by millions, ‘fiddling’ about with the books and characters can be a very tricky undertaking. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a pedant; I do not baulk at the mere hint of playing with a classic author’s books. I have thoroughly enjoyed several modern authors’ re-writing of Austen’s novels, but there are certainly some where the ink should never have hit the page, never mind the book hit the shelf.
I liked Allie Cresswell’s ‘Game Show’, but this is a very different animal. A prequel to Emma, (not one of my favourites) and set quite some decades in the past, the author has had to reverse engineer the story and at the same time keep the setting and language accurate and firmly under control. Cresswell has achieved what few do, she has taken the Austen style and made it her own, and in doing so has produced a novel where style, behaviour, conversation, and moral code are as comfortable as an old sweater.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the Bates women, the Knightly men, the Westons, and all their friends and neighbours. There are some great moments of hilarity, and equally some sorrowful and forlorn moments. Around the main protagonists, the village and its characters help bring the Austen world to life.
We have three women, mother and daughters, each with very different personalities and temperaments, and yet each with a possible romance. In an age when women were restricted by society as to what they could and could not do, many times they were left to fend helplessly for themselves. It was particularly difficult for single women, where marriage was the best and often the only option. Even then, social class dictated a woman’s marriage prospects. Finding a suitable husband was very difficult, propriety demanded that thoughts and feelings were kept strictly guarded and unspoken, and crossing the social divide was tantamount to social suicide.
Cresswell pitches the tenor of the book perfectly, neither slipping into sentimentality, nor straying into bleakness. As with Austen, she highlights the absurdity in manners, pokes fun at the sycophant, and spotlights the impossible situation women of women in society. Reading this was as natural as reading Austen herself, and as with Austen, you cannot help but enjoy the story. This is a delightful, engaging, and thoroughly entertaining book.
For myself, the only cloud was that I know what happens to all three women – as I said, I have read, re-read, and re-re-read Austen’s novels many times. So, if you have too, then stick that knowledge in a deep dark corner of your brain, lock the door, and temporarily mislay the key.
Congratulations, Allie Cresswell on a brilliant novel. You’ve wowed me again. Thank you.
For the duration of the blog tour, Allie Cresswell has five hard copies of Game Show and five hard copies of Tiger in a Cage, all signed, available for £5 plus p & p to UK addresses. If you are interested then please get in touch.
Allie Cresswell was born in Stockport, UK and began writing fiction as soon as she could hold a pencil. She did a BA in English Literature at Birmingham University and an MA at Queen Mary College, London. She has been a print-buyer, a pub landlady, a book-keeper, run a B & B and a group of boutique holiday cottages. Nowadays Allie writes full time having retired from teaching literature to lifelong learners.
She has two grown-up children, two granddaughters and two grandsons, is married to Tim and lives in Cumbria, NW England.
You can contact her via her website at www.allie-cresswell.com
or find her on Facebook
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