Jane Austen and Shelley In the Garden is a difficult book to describe in a sentence. It’s a story of friendships new and old. Fran and Annie have been friends for most of their lives. They love each other even though they also irritate each other. When Fran visits Annie she meets some of her new friends, Shelley enthusiasts. Somehow Annie’s friends, Thomas and Rachel, decide to go to Wales to see the places Percy Blythe Shelley lived when he was young and newly married. Fran, who was born there is eager to go with them. Thomas is a Shelley expert and Rachel is a writer/teacher who also likes Shelley and Thomas, though she is closer in age to Fran and Annie. Fran is a bit of an interrupter, though they don’t know that much of the time her nonsequiturs are overheard conversations with her personal haunt, Jane Austen.
Despite the occasional irritations, the group, this time including Annie and a grad student named Yasmin travel to Venice to see where Shelley lived and died. They tell the stories, the great tragedies of his marriage and children’s deaths. Shelley was not a nice man. They share more of their sorrows and grief.
Jane Austen and Shelley In the Garden is not for everyone. The action is limited despite their traveling adventures. This is a story about conversation and companionship. The conversations are delightful. The writing is beautiful. The plot is of minor interest compared to the conversation. But what conversation, about great literature, poetry, academics, and life. There really doesn’t need to be more with this talented writer.
Janet Todd does not write easy books, but they are grand.