I love Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility as much as the next bibliophile. But this book was boring.
Austen has claimed so much pop culture attention lately - from full novels about Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice fame (you can seduce him, turn him into a vampire, or read his diary) to Zombies (twice over) and Sea Monsters to new BBC releases of Emma, Austen remains in the public eye. So the idea of a fictionalized version of the life of Jane and her sister Cassandra seems like a realistic and engaging idea.
Maybe it is because Hollywood has told us too much about Austen. Maybe it is because her novels have long been touted as being semi-autobiographical, but Pitkeathley's novel does not offer anything that an Austen fan does not already know. To suggest that Jane had a short-term affair that turned sour or turned down an offer of marriage because she did not love the prospective groom should not surprise many.
Moreover, Cassandra is sniveling and co-dependent. Anytime Jane gets happiness Cassandra complains because her sister is not at her side day and night. To suggest that Cassandra Austen spent 20+ years after Jane Austen's death sitting around remembering her sister and reading her novels day in and day out is a sad caricature of any individual. I sure hope that Cassandra mourned her sister but moved on and continued to live her life.
I did find the family tree and the expectations of the maiden aunts interesting. The Austens had, if I remember correctly, three different sister-in-laws who had at least eleven children! Although not unusual in past history, it is not something that appears in the Austen novels so I hadn't thought about it concretely. I did think Pitkeathley did a good job portraying how unmarried women felt both distanced from and relieved by the burden of continual childbirth.
The discussions of women not involving themselves in business were also intriguing. Imagine being an author and not even having the rights or expectations to talk to the publisher yourself because it is unseemly?
If you're an Austen lover and you want to learn more about her and her relationships, you might enjoy Cassandra and Jane. But for the most part I would say, don't bother. Go watch Emma instead.