Saturday, November 24, 2007

New Eligible Book: Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence

Card's review:

I already reviewed -- and highly recommended -- the movie Becoming Jane Austen. But I couldn't help being suspicious that all the best bits in the movie were simply made up.

That's why I had to buy Jon Spence's biography Becoming Jane Austen, to see just where fact left off and fantasy began.

Spence's book is a remarkably well-written biography. Working with the same data that has led several previous writers to create completely dull biographies of this fascinating woman, Spence was able to spin a completely accurate story that clearly distinguished between known facts and plausible speculations that fit the available evidence.

The book is compulsively readable. It's a model for how popular biographies of long-dead people can and should be written. And yet it never leads you into falsely believing things that simply can't be proven, though they seem likely. Always we are given Spence's evidence so we can decide for ourselves what to believe.

As to the movie, the verdict is: The climactic nearly-running-away scene is completely unjustified but could have happened; everything else either certainly did happen or might well have happened or happened, but not at the time shown.

In other words, the movie is way above average in fidelity to real history. Much more accurate, for instance, than Schindler's List or Saving Private Ryan or JFK or An Inconvenient Truth, all of which purported to tell the truth.

But good as the movie is, if you have to choose between seeing it and reading the book it was based on, read the book.

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