Sex and Sensibility by Rosemarie Santini

In the spirit of the SATC 2 movie that opened last night, I’m sharing a review that initially appeared in the JASNA-SW newsletter several years ago.

When I first heard that there was a new Austen-themed work that took a Sex and the City girl and made her an Austen maniac, I was intrigued. Finally someone had combined two of my passions into one glorious masterpiece.

Glorious this book is not, but because I am, at heart, an optimistic, I’ll start with how it fails, and conclude with how it succeeds.

When first I began to read, with hopes undimmed by reality, I was struck by a passage in one of the (far too short to delve beneath the surface) chapters. Our main character, Lizzie (aka Carrie) says she has just “divulged” to her latest beau her “most secret wish, to have a lover who could take me in and out of Austenland, someone who had read the novels, who knew each and every phrasing that could—and would—turn me on.”

So what goes wrong, you ask?

JANO, this book’s version of our beloved JASNA regional chapter, consists of a bunch of mentally disturbed, sex-crazed quasi-lunatics with equal parts smut and skewed Austen in mind. Besides being unrealistic (Lizzie finds hot, hetero 30-something guys who idolize Mr. Knightley in this group—are you kidding me?), this group serves more as her LA (Lunatics Anonymous) buddies than true Jane enthusiasts. Lizzie uses the group to protect herself from wanting liposuction, to indulge her alcohol appreciation and occasionally tea, and to misinterpret grossly the teachings of our great lady.  Emma supposedly teaches the discerning reader that it’s okay to use one man to make another jealous, and Austen supposedly “taught” this girl “how to ignore men.”

Now truth be told, I did happen to suggest serving alcohol at our events during a recent board meeting, and I have, perhaps, once or twice, encouraged a man I like by reminding him subtly that other men like me, too, but this book takes these charms too far. These people don’t do these things in a classy way like I do.

In that vein, if what the publishers mean by Sex and the City is a lot of sexual references, few of which are necessary or comfortable, okay, but this text certainly lacks the friendship, class, and basic story of HBO’s brilliant series. Furthermore, some of Lizzie’s most insightful moments are stolen right from the show. Carrie Bradshaw told viewers in Season One (years ago!) that romance in Manhattan was dying a painful death, and even Lizzie’s friend who gets married is a theft: the girl’s name is Bitsy, the Lizzie types miss the bouquet, and our gals are the only single women there (all SATC details).

The book is, in fact, largely a clever premise gone awry. Yes, Carrie Bradshaw and her smart friends could well be Austen fans, but this isn’t how their lives would read. Group meetings simply would not involve discussions of thick- versus thin-skinned vaginas, as these do. The girls would not declare that life is “filled with cheating men” because, after all, “is there any other kind?”

But there might—just might—be some redemption for this work. Our heroine, though a bit o’er the top for my liking, does reveal some problems that perhaps more than one of us has actually experienced. She feels, for instance, that the men with whom she sleeps suffer “[by] comparison” to the Austen heroes she really fancies. She deals a hard blow at our group when she declares that “there were too many librarians in Austenland” (she wants more exotic dancers to join the group, which, I have to say, might spice up some of our reading groups). She asserts plainly that “everyone’s parents suck” about her own world, but that is equally true in Austen’s creations (with the possible exception of Catherine Morland). She is, most interestingly, the daughter of a modern Mr. and Mrs. Bennet (he: abandons the family years earlier but taught Lizzie love; she: poses nude in an indie film, with bouncing parts and a mid-life crisis). And then there is “darling lad,” our heroine’s love fantasy, an Austen-playing hero whose dashing looks and gentlemanly manner lead her to post his picture in her room and on her soul.

He reminds me, suspiciously, of Colin Firth, so I of course read wearily as I came to recognize that the feelings she has are, in fact, an obsession. I do not have an obsession. My feelings are completely normal and sane. I worked very hard while reading this book to remind (convince) myself of that key difference.

And let me tell you what a challenge that was, especially with our narrator regularly reminding me that reading Jane Austen is “an aphrodisiac.” Everyone knows that an aphrodisiac leads to a happy ending.

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Published in: on May 28, 2010 at 7:37 am  Leave a Comment  

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