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Source: Review copy from Berkley
Rating: ★★★★☆

Vincent’s pangs of remorse for his evildoing had preyed upon his mind and led to his cryptic comments as he lay on his deathbed, so all was explained.  A fine ending to a fine novel!

In real life, alas, things are not so simple.  Wives cannot be got out of the way by imprisoning them, husbands cannot be poisoned and good and virtuous heroines do not always marry the men they love.

(from Henry Tilney’s Diary, page 93)

Henry Tilney’s Diary is a retelling of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey from the point of view of its hero.  Amanda Grange is well known for her diaries of Austen’s heroes (and even one of a rake), and I’ve enjoyed how she gets into the heads of the male characters and gives them a voice.

The novel opens in 1790 when Henry is just 16, giving readers a chance to meet the Tilneys in happier times.  Henry’s mother is still alive, though frequently ill, and his father, General Tilney, tries to whip his older brother, Frederick, into shape by forcing him to join the army despite the fact that he stands to inherit their estate, Northanger Abbey.  Henry and his younger sister, Eleanor, just 13, are very close and have similar personalities.  Both are romantics and take pleasure in Gothic novels.

Grange successfully uses the book-within-a-book technique to show how ridiculous and enjoyable Henry and Eleanor find such novels.  The two read A Sicilian Romance together and poke fun at the formula used by the Gothic novelists, with heroines who lose their mothers, are forced to marry men they don’t love, live in haunted houses, find family members hidden away or are locked away themselves, and faint at every turn.

Although each of the Tilney children has their own fortune, General Tilney is adamant that they each marry someone with money or a title, and he is always trying to set them up with children of his friends.  Even though Frederick has given up on finding the perfect mate, Henry and Eleanor wish to marry for love.  Henry even jokingly states that his heroine must first and foremost be a fan of novels.

Fast-forward eight years later, and the Tilneys are a more solemn crowd, having lost their mother and Eleanor falling for a man of whom her father would never approve.  A trip to Bath lifts their spirits when they meet Catherine Morland, a young woman who loves Gothic novels and whose innocence captures Henry’s heart.  When Catherine is invited to stay at Northanger Abbey, she can’t wait to see a real abbey, and Henry encourages her fanciful notions of ghosts behind its closed doors and within its secret spaces.  Meanwhile, he and Eleanor are wondering if their father has had a change of heart, as General Tilney bends over backward to impress Catherine even though she doesn’t have a fortune or a title.

Fans of Northanger Abbey will enjoy reading Henry’s side of the story, especially his thoughts on Catherine’s zeal for Gothic novels, his brother’s flirtations with Catherine’s brother’s intended, and John Thorpe’s bragging and designs on Catherine.  However, you could easily enjoy Henry Tilney’s Diary without having read Austen’s novel, though I suspect by the time you’re done, you’ll be rushing to get your hands on a copy of Northanger Abbey, where Austen’s humor is on display as Catherine fancies herself a heroine in a Gothic novel but merely ends up embarrassing herself.

I really enjoyed Henry Tilney’s Diary because it enabled me to revisit Northanger Abbey and see it from a different perspective.  It is impossible to know how Austen imagined Henry’s side of the story, but Grange understands Austen’s view of Gothic novels, respects the original novel, and obviously has a real love for the characters Austen created, so her take feels authentic.  I can’t get enough of these Austen-inspired novels, and those that are original but don’t stray too far from Austen’s works tend to be my favorites.

Book 2 for Explore the Many Genres of Jane Austen Challenge (Variation)

Disclosure: I received Henry Tilney’s Diary from Berkley for review.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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