Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict
Posted by JaneGS
Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict is a thoroughly fun escape from the everyday to Jane Austenland. It chronicles the adventures of Courtney Stone, a thirtyish singleton living in 21st century Los Angeles, who wakes up in the body of Jane Mansfield, a thirtyish singleton living with her parents in England in 1813.
Ever since I first fell in love with the Diana Gabaldon Outlander series, I've speculated that one of the secrets to its success was the fact that Gabaldon could write a historical novel but have her heroine, through the marvels of time travel, react to everything she encounters in a thoroughly modern way--this setup neatly turns any anachronistic detail that might creep into the text into a function of the modern-day heroine not understanding the nuances of the world into which she has been flung. Laurie Viera Rigler uses the same setup in Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and the result is a charming romp through Regency England with a thoroughly modern woman describing and commenting sarcastically on the food, furniture, transportation, bathing habits, rituals, social mores, and class distinctions. Courtney is funny and likeable in typical chick-lit fashion--she's unlucky in love, a bit hapless, but plucky and good at her core, and her new circumstances enable her to grow in confidence and self-awareness, emerging from her cocoon of self-doubt and taking her rightful place as strong, happy, fulfilled woman.
As with Remarkable Creatures, a novel I reviewed earlier this year and which happens to be one of my favorites books of 2010, the only part I didn't much care for was when Courtney/Jane actually encounters Jane Austen in the flesh. She chases after her, forces her to engage with her, and the whole episode made me blush both for Courtney/Jane and the author. I hate this kind of thing. It's okay for Courtney/Jane to fantasize about meeting Austen, but I have yet to appreciate a scene like this that isn't totally a spoof.
That quibble aside, I enjoyed the heroine's character and her story, and I thought Rigler did a good job in creating her own story with wonderful characters and not just plopping her time traveler down in an Austen novel. I particularly liked the father, Mr. M., and his Picasso-like paintings, and Charles Edgeworth and his sister were nicely drawn, three-dimensional characters. Mrs. M., Jane's mother, was a nice mixture of Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Norris, and the descriptions of London and Bath were definitely entertaining.
I thought the underlying theme of living in the life you happen to have is a strong, positive one that worked well. There were a couple of loose ends story-wise (e.g., just what was the relationship between Jane and the serving man brother of her maid?), and I tend to like to know a bit more about the author's view regarding the mechanics of their version of time travel/body swapping than I was given.
I found the book overall to be fun, interesting, and diverting enough for me to go ahead and order the sequel, Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, which recounts the adventures of Jane Mansfield waking up to find she is in Courtney Stone's body two hundred years after she fell off her horse and knocked herself unconscious.