Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Jane Austen Ruined My Life

by Beth Pattillo
Guideposts Books
320 pages
Reviewed by Melissa

Emma Grant -- professor, Jane Austen specialist, and hopeless romantic -- has had the foundation of her world completely shattered. She walked in on her husband, Edward, in the act of sleeping with her teaching assistant. And, to top things off, he supported the teaching assistant in a plagerism accusaition against Emma. Because he is an acclaimed Milton specialist, and a powerful professor, she was booted off the university faculty. Divorced and jobless, Emma's grasping at whatever it takes to get her career (at least) going again. When she gets a mysterious letter from a Mrs. Gwendolyn Parrot in England, saying that she has Jane Austen's missing letters -- the ones that scholars all suppose were burned by her sister Cassandra -- Emma finds that she can't resist. She hocks what's left of her possessions and catches a flight to London.

Once in England, Emma discovers that her task won't be as easy as she thought. Mrs. Parrot is part of an elite socity called The Formidables that is charged with the task of keeping Jane's letters secret from the public. The only way Emma is going to be allowed to see the presumed letters is by completing a series of tasks. In addition, she discovers that her old best friend, Adam, whom she hasn't seen in 10 years, has been invited to stay at the same townhouse. In a somewhat predictible turn of events, Adam is always available and willing to help Emma out on her quests, during which she not only discovers more about herself and her perspective on her life (as well as insight into Jane Austen's life and works), but that she's been in love with Adam all along.

It's an interesting little novel, primarily for the creative liberites Pattillo takes with Austen's life. She invents a mysterious love for Austen, someone too poor for her to marry in good conscience, but someone whom she gives her heart to. In the process of figuring this out, Emma is taken on her own journey. What was especially fresh in the midst of all the usual chick-lit tropes, was that, in the end, Emma didn't end up with Adam (or any other man). She left with her integrity intact, and with a new dream, but still single and willing to put her life back together herself.

In the end, the book was fun, but it lacked the elements necessary to truly be a great book. Emma was clueless and annyoing (much like her namesake), and the mystery surrounding Adam and his presence in London got old after about a third of the way through. Even so, the reimagining of history (and Jane's missing letters), was definately worth the time spent reading.

1 comment:

J.S. Peyton said...

I just read my first Jane Austen novel last month, and I considered reading this as a kind of follow-up. Now I'm not so sure. It sounds a little too chic-lity for me. At the very least, I believe I'll wait for the paperback.