This delightful book is written by a Jane Austen expert, but it is in no way dry or academic. It examines twenty ‘puzzles’ or themes or curiosities that run through all of Austen’s novels, things such as ‘Is there sex in Jane Austen?’ and ‘Why is it risky to go to the seaside?’ The chapters are very in depth and use lots of quotes from the novels, yet they are short and snappy to read. I breezed through this book and really enjoyed the discussions that draw from each of Austen’s works. I definitely felt a desire to reread all of her novels with this new information in mind. Reading this feels like attending a class with that funny, warm, wonderfully brilliant favorite professor from college. I could listen to him all day.

Even if you’re not a rabid fan of Austen or a Janeite you’ll find much to like in this book. It delves into the history of social customs during this time period and also discusses aspects of her own life and experiences that affected her books. I found it to be insightful, witty and very entertaining.


  1. marie.russell25@gmail.com

    It’s on my list now!

  2. I’ve been holding back from reading Jane Austen books, because it’s been a while since I’ve read her novels and I fear not getting the best from them. You make it sound as if that might not be the case with this one?

    • No, not the case! You’ll be amazed at the themes you never recognized were in Austen and remember the all the little details you might have forgotten about. It’s a revelation.

  3. I got fed up with Jane Austen after taking part or being spectator to very hot discussions about her “oeuvre”. For a French girl, it is very difficult to understand why academics willfight like mad upon her novels and their critics and the critics of the critics and the critics of the critics of – well, you understand my meaning.
    But I bought some three years ago this book by Mullan and found it interesting, re-awakinng my love of JA, funny, clever, inciting to thinking and making one want to read Austen carefully within the context of her times.
    Greatly recommended. Thenk you for your review. 🙂

    • Thanks, Camille! I usually ignore the critics and read what I want, but I agree, that it can be very frustrating when there are arguments over an obviously wonderful author.

  4. I’ve seen this recommended elsewhere and it does sound very appealing. I’m going to get it next time I have a bout of Austen reading. Thanks!

  5. Whenever John Mullan is a guest on one of the bookish podcasts I listen to, I am a very happy listener. Glad you enjoyed the book…and that I have a copy!

  6. My thoughtful husband bought me a copy of this book for Christmas last year…. it’s probably high time to read it 😉

  7. I started reading this & was enjoying it, but then I got caught up in obsessively taking notes, trying to remember everything. I need to try it again & just read it.

    • I can see wanting to stop and take notes! I wanted to stop and re-read all the passages he mentions. It is worth reading straight through and just enjoying the ride.

  8. piningforthewest

    It sounds right up my street. I’ve just reserved it at my library. Thanks

  9. This sounds like a great read. It’s been a couple of years since I last reread any Austen and I think I’m sorely overdue for one.

  10. I’m the opposite of Lisa – I ‘just’ read this the first time and now I want to go back and obsessively take notes! I’m glad you enjoyed it…and I agree that it’s like taking a class with a favorite professor. That’s a perfect description!

  11. I kept thinking how fun it would be to have John Mullan for a professor! I bet he’d assign really interesting paper topics, and I’d love to hear him lecture.

  12. John Mullan was on Radio 4 yesterday talking about Emma. He is such an engaging speaker. Let’s hope he writes another Austen book, soon!

  13. Oh, I have this book. Thanks for encouraging me to read it!

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