This short novel is one of the snarkiest things I've ever read. First written around 1797, then revised and sold in 1803, but not actually published until 1818, Northanger Abbey makes fun of the Gothic novels that were so very popular at the time. They're a bit like Twilight and Beautiful Creatures and other urban fantasies are right now. Catherine Morland, our protagonist, is deliberately as far from the Gothic heroine as Austen could make her. She's a bit on the plain side. She has more common sense than emotional sensibility (see what I did there?). The characters around her aren't black and white villains and heroes. I could imagine bumping into personalities like the ones I met in this book.
Catherine is invited to Bath with well-to-do family friends. After a few false starts at forming new acquaintances (there was a whole ceremony for this, you couldn't just walk up to people and make friends), Catherine becomes friends with Isabella Thorpe. The two girls indulge in some social silliness. Isabella becomes engaged to Catherine's brother. Isabella's brother tries to become engaged to Catherine, but she rebuffs him. While Catherine tries to maintain her friendship with Isabella and avoid Isabella's brother, she pursues the acquaintance of Eleanor and Henry Tilney--because she thinks Henry might be the right man for her.
Of course there are romantic hurdles that Catherine has to overcome on her road to true love, and I was on tenterhooks until they were resolved--even though I've read enough Austen to know that there was going to be a happy ending**. The other great thing about this book was that Austen took every opportunity to poke fun at overwrought, absurd, and silly Gothic novels. I laughed out loud more than once while reading this book. It's a shame it's so overlooked.
* Unfinished novels drive me nuts. Though Gogol's Dead Souls was pretty good.
** Published in 1818, remember? No whining about spoilers.