Joan Aiken’s attempt to re-write Jane Austen’s unfinished early piece, “The Watsons”, is far inferior to her take on “Emma” from Jane Fairfax’s point of view (in a novel named after its heroine, “Jane Faifax”), and it does not have the saving grace of “Jane Fairfax” by a semi-entertaining story with fairly believable characters. Emma Watson, aged 19, is returned to her impoverished family, of 3 sisters and 2 brothers. One brother, Robert, is rich and affluent, but disagreeable, and is married to an equally disagreeable woman. Another brother, Sam, is good-natured, and a budding surgeon. Elizabeth, the eldest sister, is kind and hard-working, and is suffering from a disappointed love of many years ago (rather like Anne Elliot of “Persuasion”). But the other two sisters, Penelope and Margaret, are pretentious and scheming. Emma’s gracefulness draw the attention of a wealthy peer, Lord Osborne, and his former tutor, the gentlemanlike Mr. Howard, who is loved by Lady Osborne, Osborne’s elegant mother. Aiken keeps true to some of Austen’s intentions in her characterization. She does not attempt to reform any sister, as Joan Coates’ completion (“The Watsons”) did Penelope. However, in all other respects she changes both plot and characters. For example, the would-be triangle between Howard, Osborne and Emma is reduced to nothing. Neither of the men is particularly appealing, and both are weak-spirited and/or weak-minded. The relationship between Emma and her final choice is so negligible that it is barely developed in several pages. The same can be said for Elizabeth’s relationship with her own destined spouse. While the prose is the usual Aiken well-written fare, events crowd quickly one upon the other, with too many characters introduced in the first section of the book, and then so many events occurring with long spaces of time narrated briefly. Consequently, the book is teeming with incidents none of which leaves and impression on the readers, or supplies them with any growing attachment to any of the characters. Indeed, some of the events are downright unnecessary and unpleasant. In summary, this book is unsatisfying, and I would not recommend it. If you wish to read a super completion of The Watsons, read Coates’ completion. It is not 100% true to the fragment, but it’s a good story—unlike Aiken’s effort.
I had managed to get my hands on several variations of The Watsons by various authors as i love Jane Austen and like many other readers wished she had been able to complete this work. This is the first 'completion' i have read and i must say that it put me off reading any of the others for now. Emma was not endearing to readers, Mr Howard was unlikable and the man Emma ended up with hardly appeared in the book at all. It seemed flung together with none of the characters really being explored. I feel like the author ran out of ideas and just decided to kill a few people off for something to happen in the story. Additionally, i thought the author tried to hard to make the reader believe she was knowledgeable about the period she was writing about - i have read many 'spin-offs' and other historical works which have managed this effortlessly. I usually finish books pretty quickly but i kept having to put this one down and return to it after a few days which was very irritating