“That’s when I decided to order myself a large clam-and-garlic pizza and reread Pride and Prejudice. I would self-medicate with fat, carbohydrates, and Jane Austen, my number one drug of choice, my constant companion through every breakup, every disappointment, every crisis” – Page 33
I have been meaning to pick up this read from Laurie Viera Rigler for quite some time, having read and reviewed the sequel Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict about a couple of years ago via a video blog (which unfortunately got taken down when I deleted that account). I finally saw it in paperback for (AU)$19.99 in Blacktown Westfield’s Dymocks ISBN 9780452289727.
Courtney, a Janeite, having just broken off an engagement, suddenly wakes up in the 1800s. She’s Jane Mansfield, looks completely different, has strange memories coming back to her that are not her own, and she quickly realises that she’s not in a dream and must carve a life for herself in this new situation. What follows is an intriguing blend of the supernatural (some out of the blue fun with a gypsy), historical details and romance, with a Jane Austen cameo thrown in. There’s also a minor bit of cross-dressing, which was a nice touch. I really enjoyed this. There were details that annoyed me, and some of the language just felt wrong for the era, but they can easily be called minor irritations rather than any sore thumb distractions.
The Jane Austen cameo was a bit of a weak let down for myself personally – seeming far unlike the teasing, slightly sarcastic Jane of my imaginings – but the conversation at this point is curious, and it made me consider how I might act if I were in Courtney’s situation. Would I come across as a strange stalker with an uncomfortably intimate knowledge of her as-of-yet unpublished works? Would I befriend her, pretend I knew little about her books and ultimately deceive her? Or would I ignore her completely? I think there’s an entire other novel in the making of this simple premise.
But don’t expect to be thinking too hard when reading this book. It’s so easy these days to lump books into the ‘beach reads’ category. Personally, I don’t consider this derogatory – it’s a compliment as to how easy the books are to read, the way the words seamlessly fall off the page and into a story, which I then consume.
This book is one of these reads, and it’s mainly down to the fluid writing style.
It’s not groundbreaking, it certainly reveals very little about Jane Austen, the times of her life, or made me think differently about the canonical Austen novels, or our Pride and Prejudice, but it’s a nice, simple, feel-good book that most Austen fans will enjoy. I think it would sit easily in the bookshelf of many of the 14+ bracket, but those in the older part of life will also enjoy it for what it is.
As I have admitted above, I actually read the sequel before I read this – and it was by pure mistake and when I was new to Austen blogging (about two years ago!) that I picked it up having never heard of it. But I far preferred this original version to its sequel as it felt more natural. I put this down to it being easier to Ms Viera Rigler better able to imagine her current self ending up in the Regency period than herself as a Regency woman ending up in the modern day.
Unfortunately, the Pride and Prejudice references are somewhat limited. While the characters talk about the book briefly here and there (which was enjoyable seeing how people of the time may have reacted to it), and there are some great little one-liners about Mr Darcy from our Janeite, it would have been nice to see Courtney understanding it better.
One big thing I did enjoy about this was Courtney’s commentary about the waters in Bath. How absolutely ridiculous it is that people will all come together around the same bathing spot when sick in the hopes of getting better. This was a bit of fun, and was a nice reminder of how far removed we are from that society. This was also the same in terms of the idea of bleeding and other medical mentions. It’s fun to imagine how any of us would flounder when attempting to pass off as a refined Regency lady.
Courtney herself, as a character, is a bit on the frustrating side. That’s possibly a good thing as she’s about as real as a character in a book can get – concerned over her appearance, over other people, confused, bewildered, often wrong and struggling to believe much of what is around her. Unfortunately, she rarely redeems herself in my eyes and I spent a lot of the read somewhat frustrated with her for basing her opinions on flickers of memories she has left and what she discovers about this new girl. She also has an excessive disregard for her old life that I found it difficult to relate to – does she have no actual decent family and friends from whom a long absence (with no potential to return in sight) might cause more than a couple of chapters of upset? I don’t know many people like that.
There are also some fantastic raunchy villains in here that just don’t know who they’re messing with when modern-day Courtney is around. It was an absolute hoot to compare the type and morals of people known today to those that were seen as outrageous then.
It was great to have the time period of the book orientated as well around Austen’s novels and a couple of close-to-Jane Austen’s-original-writing lines in there for the well-versed of us to smile at. But honestly, imagine waking up and several of them not having been written yet… travesty!