Sanditon Summer: Juliette Shapiro
Writing is hard. The work is lonely, the pay low, the public recognition at best fleeting, at worst non-existent. Because I’ve been there, I hate to be mean to another writer, especially one with whom I share a love of Jane Austen. But honesty compels me to acknowledge that Juliette Shapiro’s self-published Sanditon completion, the subject of today’s post in my Sanditon Summer blog series, is not very good. The prose is clumsy, the characters are unconvincing, and the pacing is amateurish. I wish I could recommend it, but I can’t. The best I can say about it is that it’s not as bad as Julia Barrett's Sanditon completion. Shapiro (b. 1964) is a freelance writer of both fiction and non-fiction who has also published under the pseudonym “Yolande Sorores.” (Among her earlier works is a Pride and Prejudice sequel that has appeared under two titles, Excessively Diverted and Mr. Darcy’s Decision.) And like yet another Sanditon continuer, Alice Cobbett, Shapiro lives in East Sussex, the setting of Sanditon.
Shapiro's continuation of Jane Austen’s fragment starts out as a conventional fanfiction, with young men and women -- created by Austen or newly imagined by Shapiro – courting and pairing off, after overcoming a series of rather perfunctory obstacles and misunderstandings. But forty pages from the end of the book, Shapiro suddenly veers from the Austen template, introducing a strange, Gothic-lite subplot involving a mentally ill butler and a runaway parlormaid posing as an amnesiac assistant to Sanditon’s newly hired physician. The problem isn’t that these new developments don’t much resemble an Austen plot (although they don’t): Shapiro is entitled to reimagine the story any way she pleases. No, the real problem is structural: rather than integrating the subplot into her narrative from the start, Shapiro drags it in at the last minute, almost as an afterthought. The book reads as if Shapiro, approaching what she’d initially envisioned as her final page, had a sudden brainwave but was too fatigued to go back and rewrite the manuscript from top to bottom to incorporate her new idea. “To marry, where one dares, one’s own words to those of Jane Austen, is very possibly one of the most perilous things [a] writer can attempt,” Shapiro tells her readers as she embarks upon her story. “My hope is that the union of her genius and the devoted nature of my tribute will prove a happy one.” My hat is off to the devotion: I share it, and I understand the temptation to lay an offering at the feet of the master. Alas, sincerity is about all this tribute has going for it. Juliette Shapiro. Sanditon, Jane Austen’s Unfinished Masterpiece Completed. College Station, TX: Virtualbookworm.com Publishing Inc., 2003.