Deborah Yaffe


By Deborah Yaffe, Jul 25 2013 01:00PM

Helen Marshall’s “Sanditon,” the subject of today’s Sanditon Summer blog post, is not Jane Austen fan fiction. It’s a darkly funny, stomach-turningly creepy short story that is also a meditation on the way great art can colonize and crowd out the self. It’s the anti-Austen fan fiction, a story about what it’s like for a writer to have nothing inside her – literally – except more Jane Austen.

Hanna is a young Canadian book editor and would-be writer who, on a business trip to England, discovers a strange lesion – no, wait, it’s a hole – on her neck. As she peels back the flesh around this hole, she finds. . . the handwritten manuscript of Sanditon, inscribed on the underside of her skin. And it looks like this version of Austen’s unfinished novel may have been finished.

The only person Hanna knows in England is Gavin, the married novelist with whom she was having a carefree, slightly inebriated one-night stand when her peculiar medico-literary condition cropped up. At first, Gavin wants nothing to do with this suddenly distressed paramour, but once he realizes what they’re dealing with – a new novel by Jane Austen! – he starts negotiating lucrative publishing deals and appearing on TV talk shows to discuss the literary find of the century.

Meanwhile, back at the hotel, Hanna begins peeling back larger and larger expanses of her own skin, slipping a cell phone inside to photograph more of Austen’s words, safety-pinning the edges together afterwards. . . .

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