Most helpful positive review
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Excellent and engaging!
on 27 June 2003
This is one of the two best Austen continuations I've read, the other being the Sanditon completion by Marie Dobbs.
The Watsons was a fragment written by Austen in her younger days, and abandoned after several chapters. It tells the story of Emma Watson (which Coates changes to Emily, to distinguish from Austen's famous Emma), a young girl who has lived with her aunt since she was 5 years old. Upon her aunt's re-marriage after her father's death and move to Ireland, she is obliged to return to her rather impoverished family, consisting of 3 sisters and 2 brothers, and an ailing father. Complications are added to the plot by the attentions bestowed on Emily by Lord Osborne, an awkward young man, and his tutor, the gentlemanlike Mr. Howard.
Coates' language is excellent, highly reminiscent of Austen's prose- a rare thing in Austen sequels. While he does not keep exactly true to the fragment, changing some characters such as Penelope, Emily's sister, his reasons for any changes he makes are plausible, and do not appear like an unnecessary change. Indeed, they are more like slight revisions than changes, to prevent the characters from resembling other Austen characters in her completed novels. Austen herself probably would have similarly revised the piece had she completed it.
Coates writes a good, plausible plot, and keeps true to Austen's sketch of the characters where he must, while changing or developing the characters where he can in a proficient manner. My only complaint is that while he re-creates Penelope to make her an appealing character, he then turns around and gives her center stage, neglecting Emily's relationship with Mr. Howard in favor of Penelope, and Emily's relation to Lord Osborne. Indeed, Coates himself is aware that he did not do Mr. Howard justice. Perhaps he was not interested in him since Mr. Howard is given center stage in previous two continuations by other authors, but this is still disappointing. In the end, one feels that this is really Lord Osborne's story, and Penelope's, and Emily is more of the star because she 'must' be.
Aside from this, the book is more than recommended. It has excellent prose, a good plot, and engaging characters- a rare thing in an Austen continuation, which is to be treasured. Buy it.