James Fairfax Paperback – August 1, 2009
"The Lost Girls of Devon" by Barbara O'Neal
From the Washington Post and Amazon Charts bestselling author of When We Believed in Mermaids comes a story of four generations of women grappling with family betrayals and long-buried secrets. | Learn more
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- Paperback : 504 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1607620383
- Item Weight : 1.62 pounds
- ISBN-13 : 978-1607620389
- Product Dimensions : 5.98 x 1.12 x 9.02 inches
- Publisher : Norilana Books (August 1, 2009)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #17,219,235 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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In his brilliant variation of EMMA, Adam Campan removes this single obstacle and then lets the story unfold. The historical basis for this conceit is not utterly untoward. As Campan points out in his Foreword, many among the nobility of Europe had preferred their own sex, but married conventionally for the sake of the proper passage of property and rank. What if, Campan asks, same-sex marriage ("marriage a la mode") were permitted by royal decree? What else would change? More significantly, what would remain the same?
Unlike many Austen pastiches, which lay into the original stories with a heavy and insensitive hand, Campan's touch is deft and sure. Much of the original text is preserved (hence Austen's name quite rightly appears in the byline), but subtle details that at first appear to make little different. But as Campan allows those tiny changes to build on one another, a startling revelation emerges, one which is both faithful to Austen's premise and relevant to today's social mores: even in a world in which sexual preference is no hindrance, nothing has changed. In marriage as in all else, people still betray--or follow--their own hearts.
Austen would have been proud.
When half-blind James Fairfax is added in, all the characters assume subtle differences that keep building. Even the dynamic between Emma and Mr. Knightley gains new perspective, which culminates in Emma's final insight: that her behavior is more like the Mrs. Elton she despises than she'd comfortably assumed. The new scenes add dimension to the tale, making me wonder at times if the ending would be all changed. I appreciated the way that Campan brought the close to a parallel to the original, but with profound changes to characters, especially Elton.
I guess one has to know EMMA very well--I can't count how many times I've read it--to perceive how this book is different. In a way, the people who are stating that this is the same as Emma with no changes are complimenting Campan on how difficult it is to tell his prose from Austen's. I guess that leads back to Campan's purpose, stated in the introduction, what if same-sex marriages was accepted? How would that hurt anyone? People would still meet and match up for all kinds of reasons, good or ill.
The "central" love triangle of the novel works well. Adam Campan has reimagined Jane Fairfax as a man (James Fairfax) and the triangle of misunderstandings and error between Emma, Frank Churchill and James Fairfax works as beautifully as it does in Austen's original novel. There is a strong feeling of truth to the premise that Frank Churchill is only using Emma as a smokescreen, but he never falls for her because he is really in love with James Fairfax.
However, this is (in my opinion) the only part of the novel which works well. Unfortunately, turning Jane Fairfax into a man distorts most of the other relationships in the novel and is in general a distinct drawback. For example, when Mr Knightley rebukes Emma for not paying more attention to James Fairfax and how he would have been a companion more suitable than Harriet Smith - it reads rather strangely. Similarly all the parts about poor James having to go out and earn a living as a teacher don't work nearly as well for a man. I didn't feel sorry for him, as I might have for Jane Fairfax - I just felt that he should pull up his socks and stop hanging around with his aunt and get on with it. The plot device of having him very short-sighted doesn't really overcome this problem, again, in my opinion.
The other relationship which doesn't work at all well in this setting is the premise of Mrs Elton as "Lady Patroness". It seems very odd that a man who is supposedly smart, handsome and talented and whose only handicap in the world is myopia should be sitting all day at home with his aunt and that it would appropriate for the vicar's wife to be taking a heavy handed interest in his welfare. The interest of (gay) Mr Elton in James Fairfax doesn't really improve the situation.
Which brings me to the other element of the book which I felt did not really "work". Just about all the characters seem to be gay, lesbian or bi. I don't mind that in itself, but it generally didn't fit. The two I thought the most strange were Mr Elton, who is depicted as being gay and in love with Thomas Cole and James Fairfax but who courts Emma and then marries Mrs Elton for money and status. This succeeds in making him an even more despicable character than the original, but his flip-flops of love interest (four in one novel) seem strangely rapid, especially as a minor character. Each time he appears he seems to have a new love interest!
The other one which I thought was very odd was the gay Harriet who is ambitiously scheming to marry Emma herself. This creates an interesting rivalry between Mr Elton and Harriet but is a huge detriment to Harriet's character. The whole point of Harriet is that she is naive, innocent and a victim of Emma's interference. To make her into a scheming, socially ambitious climber who is *also* naive and innocent and a victim - it just doesn't scan well.
The change of Mr Weston to Mrs Weston seems done just for the sake of having another gay couple and leaves the novel so totally unaffected that the proof readers even missed a couple of pronouns which were left in from the original.
The other aspect of the novel which I didn't like, from a writing point of view, was the continual repeating of the opening premise. Over and over the characters are defensive about not being homophobic and having no objections, etc - after a while it starts to sound like the author didn't proof-read it to realize how much repetition is in there on this topic. One of the reasons why Jane Austen's prose flows so beautifully is that she doesn't bother explaining and going over and over the social/financial status of her characters - it is shown more subtly in the flow of their interactions with each other. To keep repeating, in effect "remember, this is an alternate history and being gay is totally fine here" interrupts the flow of the story and starts to make the whole work sound like a platform for making a political statement. Of course, this may in fact reflect the author's own views.
The writing is otherwise very smooth and believable - Adam Campan certainly has Austen's style down pat. Like most other Austen-imitation pieces, there is not the acute social observation and witty phrasing that makes Austen stand out from other drawing-room dramas, but overall I found this book worth the time it took to read it. But get it from the library if you can - I'll be donating my copy there as I don't plan to read it again. Three stars.
Top reviews from other countries
The book is a fun exercise for those who seek more quality historical queer romance, and as I've said, reading Jane Austen can never be a bad experience, but as remixes go this underperformed for me.
Having said that, I would have preferred more pastiche and less copying Austen. I thought the idea of making Jane Fairfax into James interesting, but it would have affected his behavior far more than is shown in the book. We needed to see the relationship between him and his lover and sticking religiously to Austen's text didn't give us that opportunity. Likewise, we needed more information than was provided about "marriage a la mode" - there was a rather bare description of what had given rise to it, but that didn't feel sufficient.
In all, it felt like Adam Campan should have cut his teeth on fanfiction before attempting anything this complicated.