I will not add another conventional review –
people can find excellent ones at Reviewing the
Evidence and EuroCrime (not to say that I
fully agree with either of these as I will discuss
later but they contain very good plot summaries
and exegeses). And my conclusion would be standard
and expected – ie: utter brilliance.

So this is a rambling disquisition which will only
be of use to those who have read the book (apologies
transatlantic friends).

First Sanditon. I have re-read the 12 chapters of Sanditon
and find Hill takes much more than the name of his
fictional sea-side town (Sandytown).

Sanditon starts when a carriage containing a Mr and Mrs Parker
over-turns in a very bad country lane, and they are
rescued by a Mr Heywood. Mr Parker has been searching
for a doctor to entice back to Sanditon, which he is
enthusiastically promoting as a sea-side resort. He has made a mistake
because there are two Willingdens and he has got the wrong
one. Mr Parker has sprained his ankle and therefore he
and his wife stay with the Heywoods ; when they are ready to
return to Sanditon they take with them the Heywood’s daughter
Charlotte. Mr Parker is garrulous, prolix, idealistic and
kind ‘more imagination than judgement’; the Parker’s have 4 children. He has
a brother Sidney, two invalid sisters and an invalid brother.
The Heywoods are reasonably prosperous farmers but 14 (!)
children make substantial inroads on their income.

‘The great lady of Sanditon was Lady Denham’. LD was
originally a ‘rich Miss Brereton’ who has buried 2 husbands.
A Mr Hollis, who had been 70 when she married him at 30.
He left her everything. She then married Sir Harry Denham
who had been after her money but she kept tight hold of
it, and when he died was said to have boasted that
‘though she had got nothing but her title of the family, still
she had given nothing for it’ (Hill lifts this quote directly – I
sure he does some others but my recall is not that good even
after a couple of days!). LD is now very rich and there are
three sets of people after her money – the Hollises (who’s chances
are low because some of them contested Hollis’s will), the
Denhams – Sir Edward the present Baronet and his unnamed
sister, and the Breretons represented by Clara who is now LD’s
companion.

The Parkers and Charlotte make their way to the Parker’s new house
on the hill which is called Trafalger House (Mr Parker remarks that he
now regrets not calling it Waterloo which is ‘more the thing now’; this
shows how closely and wittily Hill has followed Austen – in A Cure
the Parkers house is called Kyoto and Mr Parker regrets the name
as Kyoto did not turn out too well and wishes he had called it Al
Gore House :)!). Mr Parker discusses his siblings – Sidney a
‘very clever young man’ and reads a letter from Diana with an
account of her and Susan and Arthur’s various maladies and cures.
At the library (social centre) they meet Mrs Whitby and in the visiting
list is the name of Mr Beard – Solicitor.

These are some of the main and obvious direct correspondences. As to
character Charlotte ….

>>was a very sober-minded young lady, sufficiently well-read in novels to
>>supply her imagination with amusement, but not at all unreasonably
>>influenced by them; and while she pleased herself the first five minutes
>>with fancying the persecution which ought to be the lot of the interesting
>>Clara, especially in the form of the most barbarous conduct on Lady
>>Denham’s side, she found no reluctance to admit from subsequent
>>observation that they appeared to be on very comfortable terms<<

(Austen is talking of the idea Charlotte has formed of Clara’s position).

Clara is…

>>as for Miss Brereton, her appearance so completely justified Mr. Parker’s
>>praise that Charlotte thought she had never beheld a more lovely or more
>>interesting young woman. Elegantly tall, regularly handsome, with great
>>delicacy of complexion and soft blue eyes, a sweetly modest and yet
>>naturally graceful address, Charlotte could see in her only the most
>>perfect representation of whatever heroine might be most beautiful and
>>bewitching in all the numerous volumes they had left behind on Mrs.
>>Whitby’s shelves. perhaps it might be partly owing to her having just
>>issued from a circulating library but she could not separate the idea of a
>>complete heroine from Clara Brereton.<<

(we have no idea as to how Austen would eventually show
Clara as turning out – first impressions are of course exceedingly
dangerous in Austen as in mysteries :)).

Miss Denham is…

>>a fine young woman, but cold and reserved, giving the idea of one who felt
>>her consequence with pride and her poverty with discontent, and who was
>>immediately gnawed by the want of a handsomer equipage than the simple gig
>>in which they travelled, and which their groom was leading about still in
>>her sight<<

Sir Edward on the other hand…

>>Sir Edward was much her superior in air and manner — certainly handsome,
>>but yet more to be remarked for his very good address and wish of paying
>>attention and giving pleasure. He came into the room remarkably well,
>>talked much — and very much to Charlotte, by whom he chanced to be
>>placed — and she soon perceived that he had a fine countenance, a most
>>pleasing gentleness of voice and a great deal of conversation. She liked
>>him. Sober-minded as she was, she thought him agreeable and did not
>>quarrel with the suspicion of his finding her equally so, <<

however we soon discover that his intellectual capacity is near zero and
his moral sense highly deficient. His ‘great object in life was to be
seductive’.

LD shows herself to be both forceful and vulgar, shrewd and yet
coarse. There is an amusing dialogue between her and Charlotte about the
gold watch which she has passed on to Sir Ted and she warns Charlotte
off him, as he will need to marry an heiress – ‘he must marry for money’.

The 12 chapters end with the following in LD’s house….

>>Charlotte had leisure to look about her and to be told by Mrs. Parker that
>>the whole-length portrait of a stately gentleman which, placed over the
>>mantelpiece, caught the eye immediately, was the picture of Sir Henry
>>Denham; and that one among many miniatures in another part of the room,
>>little conspicuous, represented Mr. Hollis. poor Mr. Hollis! It was
>>impossible not to feel him hardly used: to be obliged to stand back in his
>>own house and see the best place by the fire constantly occupied by Sir
>>Henry Denham.<<

A passage which Hill repeats almost exactly (though it is not
Charley observing).

I should say that I have missed some correspondences on purpose
in order not to be over-lengthy, and no doubt far more because
I have just not picked up on them.

OK leaving Sanditon and turning to A Cure itself. First I will take
issue with both the reviews mentioned and defend the epistolary
(or email) passages which dominate the first part of the book.
They are of course addressed to Charley’s sister Cassie (Cassandra)
and therefore refer not to Sanditon but to JA’s famed correspondence
(the source of most that is known of JA) with her sister Cassandra.
Charley thus becomes in a way JA herself rather than the Charlotte
of Sanditon – or at least a cross between the two. It is entirely
appropriate
in this context that she should be a trainee psychologist. It is a way
of Hill having fun, although it also serves as a constant reminder of
the Austenian themes about appearance and deception.
Hill wants to take Austen and throw everyone he can into the
mix – D and P, Wield and of course Franny Roote (oh what
joy I felt when Roote appeared – he is another towering creation
of Hill’s).

Turning away from Austen I always feel with Hill that the books
can be categorised as Dalziel books, or Pascoe books, in one
case at least a Wield book. The Death of Dalziel paradoxically
was of course a Pascoe book (or a Pascoe and Ellie book);
A Cure is definitely a Dalziel book and Hill takes this extraordinary
gamble of having large chunks of first person Dalziel narration. I seem
to recall that he has done this once before in short story but that was
a jeu d’esprit. It is a very self-consciously literary device and has
a certain shock value (you might compare it with the one Wodehouse
story where he turns Jeeves into a first person narrator – that’s
shocking in a way too) – it needs a brilliant writer to be
able to pull this off, but then Hill is a brilliant writer.

Well this is not as is obvious a review – just a few notes and
reactions, so it is quite long enough already!

(April 2008)

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