The good: An original spin on the life of Jane Austen.
The not-so-good: Took me a little while to get into.
Why I chose it: I am HERE for all the Jane Austen novels arriving this year. Thanks to Penguin for the indulgence.
Publisher: Michael Joseph (Penguin)
Setting: Bath and London, England
Rating: 8.5 out of 10
I don’t think it’s any secret that I am a fan of Jane Austen’s works. I enjoy reading her novels (I even keep one in reserve to break out in case of reading slumps). I like to read reimaginings of her novels too, or any that claim to be inspired by them. My only caveat is that they must be well written, and here Rachel Givney has delivered in spades with Jane in Love. Not only is this novel original in plot, but it is heartfelt, amusing and true to the spirit of Jane Austen herself.
The story starts with Jane Austen living in Bath and hating the life there with a passion. She is unmarried, and lacking in prospects in this town of matchmaking. Jane just wants to be left alone to write, but her mother has burned her first manuscript (First Impressions) and effectively told Jane to get her head out of the clouds. The family is then all aflutter as a handsome suitor takes an interest in Jane, only to be let down. Bereft and angry, Jane decides to try a spell for love and happiness given to her by a dubious woman in London. She finds herself in Bath, current day and on a film set. (Luckily, it’s a new version of Northanger Abbey). It’s there that she meets Sofia Wentworth and her brother Fred. Sofia is convinced that Jane is an actor, trying to bamboozle her into a Candid Camera like stunt. As Sofia begins to realise that Jane just might be telling the truth, Jane and Fred are beginning to fall in love. But the longer Jane stays in the present, the more her writing legacy disappears from history. It seems that the more comfortable Jane becomes, the less she writes. That’s bad new for Sofia too, as her role as Mrs Allen is meant to be a plan to get her husband back. Love or legacy? Which should Jane choose?
Jane in Love raises all kinds of personal dilemmas for both Jane and Sofia. Jane is unhappy in her own time, and seems to fit much better in the modern era where she can have a job and remain unmarried without anyone blinking an eye. But is her own happiness the ‘right’ price to pay for leaving a legacy of novels beloved of millions? What price should she put on family? Duty? Sofia has some things to learn from Jane too. Once the hottest film star in Hollywood, her age now puts her in ‘character’ roles and Sofia is not happy at losing her crown to someone younger and less talented. She finds her age somewhat difficult to accept in addition to the end of her own marriage. Surely she can win her ex-husband back with her beauty? From Jane, Sofia starts to learn to be comfortable in her own skin and to accept that she doesn’t need to be the most beautiful to get somewhere in her career. Jane is also a good mentor to Fred, gently guiding him to developing greater confidence in himself. It takes time for these to be established in the novel, but in the mean time the reactions of Jane to the modern world are rather delightful. Her joy at surviving the ‘moving staircase’ (aka the escalator on the Tube) will bring a smile to anyone’s face. Her astute observations of everyone being enamoured with little boxes (aka smartphones) brought a feeling of guilt to this modern reader at the lack of interaction with others and the natural world. (Of course, as she writes on a black box staring at a brightly lit bigger box).
Jane’s speech is also true to the time period, and Fred and Sofia seem to adjust their own to avoid too much slang. It’s quite quaint and brings that overall Austen feel to the modern day. I loved the clash of modern and old, such as Sofia being a former Batgirl next to one of the greatest writers in history. I felt rather sorry for Jane in the end, and rather torn between her choices. Givney helps to ease the pain though with some light moments involving a bag of sugar from Sainsbury’s and a character name. This is a sweet, witty book that is a worthy addition to the stories about Jane Austen shelf.