Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Austen-tacious


It's the penultimate day of 2008, and I've been wallowing in holiday mood in freakishly warm Dunedin temperatures, in this zombie world between Christmas and New Year. The streets are deserted, and as I've kept away from shopping mall frenzy I've hardly seen a soul. I may as well have been in a far-flung mountain cabin. Staying in the city in summer is probably more relaxing than going to a crowded resort! I haven't even been playing the radio or the stereo much, as I've been savouring the unaccustomed silence, and catching up on the pile of unread books.

I've been reading for pleasure, knocking off at least one novel a day, the only rule being it musn't be anything that could be construed as work reading, and I have also enjoyed watching the ITV miniseries LOST IN AUSTEN.

How could I not watch Lost in Austen once I heard that it was a reinvention from the perspective of a contemporary reader becoming tangled up in the fictional tale? (Not just time travel, but travel between fiction and reality, shades of Woody Allen's hilarious The Purple Rose of Cairo.)

Normally I avoid the lavish costume drama or historical romance - they are really not my cup of tea. So I haven't been much of an Austen fan, due to the high romance quotient in her stuff, but because this version had a time travel take on the classic Pride and Prejudice story, it was a must-see for me.

It's not that I'm a snob and don't enjoy genre fiction - for light entertainment I'll read or watch a police drama, a whodunnit or a vampire story - but I just don't get the romance genre, and from my point of view the audiovisual Austen adaptations just feel like the same old sentimental improbable romance, even though the productions are labelled with a prestige literary pedigree. I don't know why I dislike romances so much, and because I just viscerally react against them I'm not motivated to examine my reaction either. Maybe it's their lack of a class analysis that rubs me up the wrong way, among other things. The lower class but uppity pretty girl always wins the heart of the rich lonely misanthrope sort of thing.

But throw in a time paradox and I'm there with knobs on - and I was charmed by this one. It had all sorts of angles to appreciate, including a fond mocking of the Austen industry. But I can see that even Austen die-hards might, after some initial alarm, find it an appropriate tribute to the great Pride and Prejudice.

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