George Knightley, Esquire, Barbara Cornthwaite
I am not totally against the recent trend of writing sequels and Austen spin-offs (the weird monster mash trend is the exception there...shudder) and some of them are fairly good and enjoyable though of course there are some that fall short of the brilliance that was Jane Austen, never quite hitting on that Austen feeling. However, Barbara Cornthwaite's retelling of Emma from Mr. Knightley's view point is absolutely brilliant. I am so glad I came across this one!
As this is a re-telling of Emma there is no need to go through a brief summary of the story. This is book one of a two part series in which we see the events from the original novel through the eyes of the hero, George Knightley. The narrative picks up as Knightley is walking to Hartfield after Miss. Taylor's wedding and ends after Frank Churchill leaves Highbury (which postpones the ball). Something I like about these re-tellings is the fact that you will sometimes get a glimpse of what "could have been" happening off screen, so to speak, and you get that with this novel. Besides the original scenes where Mr. Knightley appears, you get a glimpse of his life beyond what Austen wrote and Ms. Cornthwaite does a fantastic job of creating a voice and distinctive personality for Mr. Knightley that is in no way contradictory to how Austen created him. I have no problem envisioning him engaged in the conversations and activities that Ms. Cornthwaite creates for him; his personality here is entirely believable and really a joy to read. He is still the true Regency English Gentleman. Something the author does here that I feel even goes beyond Austen's wonderful portrayal is the humor she gives to Mr. Knightley. There are some priceless moments in this story: the scenes with Mr. Knightley and "the cat" are wonderful and if those don't give you a laugh the letters between Knightley and his younger brother John will certainly have you laughing out loud. I thought these letters between the brothers one of the highlights of Ms. Cornthwaite's narrative. The way in which Knightley comes to realize his true feelings for Emma is very well written and very believable (you're not going to find the annoying "for some reason" phrase used over and over here). There are some very sweet scenes between the two. As the author had to find some way for Knightley to fill his time in those moments when he wasn't "on stage" in the original, we see him at Donwell performing his duties as local magistrate and top landowner in the parish and I found it fascinating the things that were required of these gentlemen. There are some wonderful descriptions of more everyday things like clothing, homes, taxes, etc, that Austen did not include in her novels (but of course she had no need to include these things as her readers did not need this information!) and it is a fascinating look into the Regency world. Ms. Cornthwaite also creates a few new characters to help fill Knightley's time and I especially enjoyed the addition of Mr. Spencer.
I heartily recommend this book to any Austen fan. It is a wonderfully written and thought out novel, furthering our knowledge of the delightful Mr. Knightley. Some might enjoy reading it along side the original just to see how they compare. It is in no way a tedious read and you will fly through it in no time! I couldn't put it down once I started! My only negative comment is the fact that the second book has not been published yet and I am absolutely on pins and needles to see what Ms. Cornthwaite does with the second half of the story. Give this one a try; I do not think you will be disappointed in any way! Jane Austen would be proud!