BOOK REVIEW: Austentatious by Alyssa Goodnight

“[Jane Austen] nuanced her way into every aspect of the book, and I just went along for the ride. Austentatious is, in part, a (loosely interpreted) modern-day retelling of Pride and Prejudice, and part homage to the wit and timelessness of Ms. Jane Austen.” – Author’s note

Austentatious by Alyssa Goodnight was another book I found at the Melton Library when browsing the shelves. IBN: 978-0-7582-6743-6 the quick read kept me company on the train back from work each day for the past week, as I stumbled through it. The initial impression I had was that the tone of writing is strange and takes a while to get used to, perhaps very conversational, very hurried – jumping to conclusions that not everyone would make. With the story located primarily in Austin, Texas, for an English girl like me, and an Australian resident, it was hard to understand some of the concepts of the much-discussed ‘Weird’ t-shirt and other, perhaps cultural, differences. Overall, however, it was a good romance novel for young adults that spans from the realm of magic to sex, Jane Austen and good old fashioned journaling.

Engineer Nic (Nicola) James isn’t your average heroine, which is a blessing in a novel of this type. The Texas-located 20-something is obsessed with The Plan. That is, her idea of what her life should, and therefore will, contain. However, after she jostles around in an antiques store and finds herself a journal – this all changes. “I dedicate to You the following Miscellaneous Morsels, convinced that if you seriously attend to them, You will derive from them very important Instructions, with regard to your Conduct in Life,” the journal is enscribed. However, the morsels are actually passages written back to Nic, blanking out her own written entries until brief parable-style sayings of advice remain – love life advice.

At first, and throughout, Nic struggles with the new romantic interest guitar-playing-singing-band-member Scottish Sean MacInnes, who is the rival to more sensible Brett, and finally (spoiler alert) ends up with him. Without the Jane Austen intrusion, I’d barely warrant this story a second glance – but when it turns out it is Jane Austen writing, ascertained after some sleuthing by our heroine, we suddenly find Pride and Prejudice allusions littered throughout and it does become fun reading.

Some irritations of mine included the lesbian neighbours that are supposedly obsessed with karaoke and Nic’s love life. Something about this didn’t add up, and we had to hear every-single-time these neighbours were mentioned that they were lesbians. I honestly thought Nic might actually have an ‘awakening’ half way through with all of the suggestions we were given. Bizarre. I appreciate that Goodnight was trying to express the weirdness of everyone else in Austin, but it just didn’t translate into believable characters – and, of course, not every lesbian is trying to convert women over to the other side of the fence. Funnily enough, sexuality doesn’t really work quite like that.

Nicola is also strange in her own cupcake-baking, difficult-about-simple-concepts character, but she is certainly more likeable – and it’s a huge cheering moment for any woman to see nerdy females/engineers in print without the point being labored. Despite the geeky aspect, she still manages to have a full social calendar… a little unbelievably full. This girl has something on every lunchtime, afternoon, evening and weekend – does she never just sit home and be herself? Here I must quickly give a thumbs up for the quirky character of Becky, the dyed-pink hair mentee that becomes more of a best friend character to Nic as the novel comes along. While she doesn’t move beyond a rather 2D character, she helped move the story along and provide the alternative perspective to Nic’s very cool and calculated mindset, and remind us that no matter your career (she is an engineer too) you can still believe in magic, fairy godmothers, love and the whole shebang.

Despite this, it was nice to see an Austen spin off that can use sex the way it should be used – in a lustful, but in a pants-on manner. There’s a bit of kissing, some touchy feely and some imaginations running riot, but we don’t end up with too much, and for that I think Goodnight has really helped push this novel above other teenage and 20s fiction.

Despite Goodnight’s suggestion that this is somewhat based on Pride and Prejudice, I rather think not. While I can see some of the characters, there’s no Jane, no Wickham, really no Darcy and the situations are just off. If anything, it is perhaps closer to Emma – with more blunders, misunderstandings and confusions. I did enjoy the Jane Austen quotes throughout, thanks to the significance of her quote-a-day calendar, and the other stories that came through the journal.

At the end of it all, I’m not convinced that Sean was the man for Nic. As I think was mentioned in The Jane Austen Bookclub, she is very suspicious of anyone too charming – and Sean is definitely way too charming, and perhaps somewhat manipulative, for me to think he could ever be an appropriate Mr Darcy. His sexual banter, serenading and pouting just had me a bit standoffish. Don’t get me wrong, the uncomfortable but sensible Mr Collins-style Brett, who is overly picky with the bill on their one lunch together, probably isn’t her match either. I also doubt a week is a long enough rendezvous for anyone, particularly someone career-minded as Nic is, to take leave at the beginning of a new job and rush off half the world away with an immediate consideration of moving there for this potential love. That’s one week of kissing and talking about, frankly, nothing important! It has taken me longer to break in a pair of jeans than a week, let alone a new partner.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

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