Book news

  • Sanditon review – every period drama box is ticked
    Chitra Ramaswamy

    It’s clear where Andrew Davies takes over from Jane Austen in this adaptation of her unfinished novel

    It is a truth recently acknowledged that Andrew Davies, grandfather of the sexed-up British period drama, used all the existing material from Jane Austen’s final novel in the first half hour of his adaptation of Sanditon (ITV). This – the one most of us haven’t read, and which has never before been adapted for the screen – is the fragment Austen abandoned unfinished in March 1817. She died four months later, leaving behind 11 chapters of a strange fiction about encroaching modernity in the industrial age and, more specifically, a seaside resort on the Sussex coast.

    So for once we slip into the ease and comfort of a Sunday night period drama knowing precisely where the author’s words end and the adaptor’s imagination takes flight. Say 24 minutes in, as our lively and naive heroine Charlotte Heywood (Rose Williams) admires a pair of slippers in a shop window. What happens after this takes place in Davies’s Sanditon, not Austen’s. Really, though, will it come as a surprise to hear that the swoonsome arrival of Sidney Parker (Downton Abbey’s Theo James) storming up the blowy cliffside in a coach bears the naughty mark of Davies? Or the deer-spotting that turns out to be the bounder Sir Edward Denham rutting with a girl of whom he is ruthlessly taking advantage? Or the requisite ball filled with snatched power-play betwixt claps and curtseys? Of course not! Austen switched places with Davies a quarter of a century ago, approximately 44 minutes into episode four of Pride and Prejudice when Colin Firth emerged wet-shirted from a lake. I still remember, a decade later, reading a hilarious Nancy Banks-Smith review of his (also sexy-seasidey) Sense and Sensibility, which observed that Davies’s name was in larger type than Austen’s in the opening credits.

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  • The Catholic School by Edoardo Albinati review – violent crime without the drama
    Anthony Cummins

    An epic prize-winning novel about a real-life murder in 70s Italy is deliberately anti-novelistic in style

    Winner of the Strega prize, Italy’s equivalent of the Booker, The Catholic School turns on a notorious crime that took place in an Italian seaside town in 1975, when three well-to-do young men from Rome abducted, raped and tortured two teenage girls, killing one, in a case that provoked a wave of horrified soul-searching, not least among the middle classes.

    Edoardo Albinati’s novel is a mammoth, roundabout attempt to conjure with the fact that he went to the same boarding school as the perpetrators, analysing – over more than 1,200 pages – the environment that formed them, from the political terrorism of Italy’s “years of lead” (the criminals were neo-fascists) to the post-60s upending of social and sexual norms that left bourgeois families like Albinati’s at sea.

    Nine-hundred pages in, Albinati tells “anyone who has had enough” to skip nearly half of what’s left

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