Amazing that so short a book could be so unsatisfactory for so many reasons. Just a few examples:
Shields insists all throughout the book that Austen "longed" all her life to be married, and that any happiness she managed to find was because she learned to live with disappointment. (Shields also mentions how annoying it is when readers conflate a fiction writer's life with her writing, right after "explaining" how much Austen has in common with the heroine of "Persuasion.")
Hold this book carefully if you do read it. If you tip it the least bit, all the billions of "Austen must have"s, "Austen would have"s, and "Austen surely"s will fall out and break your foot.
Shields hates "Lady Susan." HATES it. How on earth can anyone who loves Austen enough to want to write even a brief biography of her not enjoy this darkly hilarious novella?
Shields describes the money left to Austen's sister, Cassandra Austen, as not very much -- "certainly not enough to live on." The sum was a thousand pounds. A YEAR. The main character family (mother, two grown daughters, and one teenager) in "Sense and Sensibility" manage to live in cozy gentility, employing three servants, on 500 a year. A thousand pounds a year for a single woman with no dependents would have been *ample.*
Shields says that Emma is her favorite Austen heroine. She describes Mr. Knightley as drawing up lists of books for Emma to read. In fact, Mr. Knightley mentions admiring the lists of books Emma drew up for *herself* to read at various times of her life. The reader gets the feeling that she spent more time writing these lists than she ever did reading. Mr. Knightley saved one of the lists for some time, but he *never* wrote one for her.
At the end of the book, Shields offers a bizarre list of body parts Austen never mentions in her novels, including toes.
I could go on and on. Suffice it to say that halfway through this book, I was begging Jane Austen to die and put me out of my misery.