I’ve just read John Mullan’s WHAT MATTERS IN JANE AUSTEN: TWENTY CRUCIAL PUZZLES SOLVED and haven’t enjoyed a book as much for ages. However the title is misleading: he doesn’t solve puzzles as much as explore fascinating questions, such as ‘Why is the Weather Important?,’ ‘Do We Ever See the Lower Classes?,’ ‘Is There Any Sex in Jane Austen?,’ ‘What do the Characters Call Each Other?,’ and ‘What are the Right and Wrong Ways to Propose Marriage?’ I loved being told that ‘so often mentioned and so frequent an influence is the weather in EMMA that earth scientist Euan Nisbet was moved to make a meterological analysis in NATURE magazine'(though it’s surely a journal rather than a magazine). The book is full of intriguing insights and is engagingly written. In the essay ‘What Do Characters Read?’ Mullan explores the way that shared literary tastes can lead characters to fall in love. He remarks ‘Marianne Dashwood is not entirely wrong to believe that reading takes you to a person’s heart. In MANSFIELD PARK, the first reason given for Fanny loving Edmund is that he “recommended the books that charmed her leisure hours.”‘ And I would say that this is true of friendship, too. There is nothing like loving the same books to bring people together. Mullan quotes Virginia Woolf as saying of Austen that ‘of all great writers she is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness,’ and I think there is some truth in this. But in his essay, ‘How Experimental a Novelist is Jane Austen?’Mullen does come close to putting his finger on what makes Austen much a marvellous writer. Reading this book was nearly as enjoyable as actually reading Jane Austen and there can’t be much higher praise than that. And I was pleased to note that Mullan doesn’t fall into the trap of over-familiarity. It is ‘Austen’ throughout, never Jane (though should that perhaps be ‘Miss Austen?’). Anyway, I loved it and would have liked it to be twice as long.