Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
It was with no small amount anticipation and curiosity that I picked up this rare sequel to Jane Austen’s Emma. I believe I first discovered Anna Weston at the sequels review page on the Republic of Pemberley, I must’ve read some favorable reviews to put it on my wish-list, but since that page is no longer posted I cannot be sure.
As we might assume from the title, this tale has more to do with the minor characters from Emma, and more specifically the Weston family and their daughter, Anna Weston. The book blurb (which I did post below since it is not posted on amazon or goodreads) informs that this book is indeed a sequel that features Anna Weston and takes place twenty years after the close of Emma.
The story begins with some surprising news and changes in the neighborhood for the beloved residents of Highbury. The Coles, who are feeling some financial stress, have decided to move to London and reside in their townhouse; and their newly-built estate, Donwell Court, is to be let by some newcomers, a Colonel and Mrs. Walters and their three adult children. In addition, the Eltons experience a change in fortunes and a call for retrenchment has been made much to the disappointment of Mrs. Elton and her daughters. Lastly, Mrs. Knightley happily accepts the request to host Anna Weston for an extended visit while her guardian travels abroad. Anna grew up in Highubry, but has not lived there in the last ten years. With all these new developments and arrivals, the quiet little hamlet of Highbury is bustling with gossip, schemes, and eventfulness!
As an ardent admirer of Emma and a reader who simply adores the fictional village of Highbury, I was so pleased to be taken back to these beloved characters and their charming neighborhood. I was sad to see that some residents such as Mr. Woodhouse, Mrs. Bates, and Mr. and Mrs. Weston have passed on, but was happy to see the Mr. John Knightleys residing at Hartfield and in close proximity with their siblings! I laughed out loud at the fact that both Mrs. Elton and Mrs. Knightley have two daughters of marriageable age, and that these daughters seem to hold each other in the same form of dislike as their mothers do! And unlike other Emma sequels that portray an unhappy and unequal marriage between the Knightleys, I was happy that Ms. Finn’s illustration of their marriage was more congenial and compatible…albeit a little humdrum.
However, while these aspects of the story’s construction made me smile and approve of this sequel, there were several bigger components that unfortunately I wasn’t too fond of. In general, I found many of the author’s new original character’s personalities to be lacking. There was not much definition or delineation of specific traits attributed to these characters. I mostly felt this to be the case with the younger generation, especially the young Miss Knightleys, who were both similarly portrayed as kind-hearted, sensible, and well-mannered. And the same could be said about their suitors minus one. With the character composition and details being thin, it was challenging to feel connection or affinity towards anyone in this story.
The other aspect of the story I wasn’t too happy with was Anna Weston, who seems to have a varied and inconsistent personality. Most of the time she is portrayed as capricious, spiteful, and out-for-her-own-amusement. She is shocking, unapologetic, and unconventional, which puts me in mind of some Georgette Heyer heroines, but since she didn’t have any redeeming or endearing qualities like selflessness, compassion, or genuine affection I couldn’t really warm to her. I also felt perplexed in the author’s choice of title as this story focused as much on the Misses Knightleys and Misses Eltons as it did Anna. Not really sure who to name as heroine… Furthermore Anna often wasn’t in Highbury where predominantly all the action takes place and is left with a somewhat unresolved and ambiguous fate at the end of the novel. Not a satisfying conclusion at all.
I admit I had some high expectations and anticipation for this sequel, but I think even without any build-up this novel would not have had much success with me. While I found parts of the plot and overall style to be well-written, I cannot say the same about the characters. However, perhaps others may not feel the same way I do and may find more enjoyment with this visit to our dear friends in Highbury.
~ Book Blurb ~
Anna Weston is a lively and amusing sequel to Emma by Jane Austen and a delightful story in its own right. As in emma, the action takes place over a period of a year, and is centred in Highbury, some twenty years after the marriage of Emma and Mr Knightley.
Anna Weston, who was born in Highbury, but has not lived there since she was ten years old, descends upon the quiet life of the inhabitants and has a marked effect on all their lives. Beautiful, rich and bored, she is by turns warm and generous, then exacting and capricious, and her quest for amusements has diverting and sometimes devastating results.
The author is a life member of the Jane Austen Society, and an enthusiastic speaker on the life and words of Jane Austen.