cover image Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels

Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels

Rachel Cohen. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-374-10703-1

In this erudite if uneven exploration of connection and loss, essayist Cohen (A Chance Meeting) draws parallels between her own life and Jane Austen’s life and literary legacy. After Cohen’s aging father died, she fell into a depression as “the rhythm of days altered... [and] the world careened”; seeking comfort, she turned to Austen’s novels and wondered, “Was this a retreat, a seclusion?” To cope with the death of her father, raising her two children, and her own uncertainty regarding her marriage and relationships, Cohen assigned specific titles to major events: Persuasion to the pregnancy and birth of her daughter, Sense and Sensibility to the aftermath of her father’s death, Pride and Prejudice to her pregnancy with her son, Mansfield Park to a move from New York to Chicago, and Emma to when she experienced the tug of parenthood and career. The works of Austen also soothe Cohen as she scatters her father’s ashes in his beloved city of Venice. Cohen’s writing at its best is lush and lyrical, though it can become dense with anecdotal biography, academic literary criticism, and passages of self-analysis. And readers not well versed in Austen will have a hard time finding their way in, despite the synopses Cohen provides. Despite its clever premise, this memoir adds little to the canon of Austen appreciations. [em](July) [/em]