BOOKS : SHELF LIFE

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The Independent Culture
2 Emma Tennant has already produced two sequels to Pride and Prejudice; now, in Elinor and Marianne (Simon & Schuster pounds 9.99), a sequel to Sense and Sensibility, she can join the slip-stream of the other Emma's success - although the publishers are keen to point out that Elinor and Marianne was planned long before the film. Bravely, Emma Tennant has written it as a novel of letters, which was the original form of Austen's own book, and often manages to re-capture the characters' authentic voices. At other moments, though, what she delivers could not conceivably have emerged from Jane Austen's pen: "My dear Charlotte," writes the trouble-making Mrs Jennings to her daughter, "I trust your nipples are now drawn out and the child sucks ..." In the same letter, she falls into the trap of giving a kind of Cole's Notes on the plot: "I have no doubt that Willoughby, who has never ceased to think of Mrs Brandon, is gone to Barton Cottage to ingratiate himself with Mrs Dashwood - to apologise for his treatment of Marianne, I daresay - and to seduce young Margaret into the bargain, if he gets the chance, even though she be but fifteen years old - but as pretty as her sister, and with all the lure of forbidden fruit to a scoundrel such as Willoughby, for she is below the age of consent -". More Georgette Heyer than Jane Austen, then, but there are many ingeniously imagined things: plenty of money trouble, a mad mother-in-law, another Dashwood sister disastrously in love, and, not least, Willoughby's unlikely interest in a pantisocratic New World commune. But which sister will he take with him? There is suspense at the end, and, craftily, plenty of scope for a sequel to the sequel.

2 "My agent remembers what the publisher said when she got the outline [of my first novel]: 'This is the best synopsis I've ever read - Celia is a genius'." Phew! That's just Celia Brayfield demonstrating her suitability for the task of writing Bestseller: Secrets of Successful Writing (Fourth Estate pounds 7.99). Her Chapter One epigraph is, rather worryingly, from Women Who Run With the Wolves ("the telling of tales causes a starry sky and a white moon to creep from the eaves and hover over the heads of the listeners") and she has a fondness for evoking Joseph Campbell and the myth-kitty; odd, if you just want to shift units at airports. But most of the time she's admirably thought-provoking and even profound. "At the very start of the book, the writer must give the reader the sign he is looking for, the confirmation that this is a magic ground," she says, quoting Rebecca and du Maurier's masterly opening scene: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again ..." However, bumping us out of the magic ground with a jolt, Brayfield adds: "The beginning of Rebecca is a long descriptive passage by modern standards, and later writers made their messages bolder and more economical." Her insistence on the convention that the reader is "he" stands oddly with some of the books cited, like Gone With the Wind, Damage and The Joy Luck Club, but then she also discusses Scott Turow, J G Ballard, The Great Gatsby and James Bond. Best of all is her trenchant bossiness as she demystifies writing but highlights the sheer graft: "Believing that you will write a book one day if someone just tells you how is like imagining that you will be able to play the guitar if someone just tunes it for you."

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