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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Short and sweet

Fellow novelists do not invariably appreciate Jane Austen—looking at you, Charlotte Brontë!—but it’s always a pleasure when they do. And so I was happy to see the contemporary British writer Julian Barnes include Persuasion among his “6 favorite books that deserve all their praise.”


It’s an eclectic list, encompassing a long nineteenth-century poem (Arthur Hugh Clough’s Amours de Voyage) and a non-fiction chronicle of the Soviet experience in Afghanistan (Svetlana Alexievich’s Boys in Zinc), along with four works of fiction.


One of Barnes’ best qualities as a novelist is his economy of expression, and so perhaps it’s no surprise that all the books he chooses here fall at the shorter end of the literary spectrum—besides Persuasion, only Alexievich’s even breaks two hundred pages. Although apparently that isn’t because Barnes has a short attention span: His Persuasion appreciation begins by noting that his other two favorite nineteenth-century English novels are Middlemarch and Jane Eyre.


His capsule review of Persuasion--“Austen’s last novel, dark, ironic and intense. Imagine what she’d have written had she not died at 41”—is characteristically pithy. Also accurate.


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