Monday, June 23, 2008

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler

I can't say that I'm a Jane Austen addict. I've read most of her books, with the exception of Mansfield Park, and Colin Firth is my favorite Mr. Darcy. I love her books and the stories she told. 

That being said, I believe that had authors wanted sequels written to their books, they would have written them during their lifetimes. Now there are so many "sequels" to Pride and Prejudice, they make my head spin. There are so many endings to the Darcys life! Here I was, perfectly happy with the ending that Austen wrote for Lizzie and Darcy, imagining them living in bliss at Pemberley, eventually with a brood of children. 

That's not to say that I haven't tried to read a few sequels. I read one following the life of Margaret Dashwood, and I attempted to read Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll before I chucked it against the wall. So it was with great trepidation that I read Laurie Viera Rigler's Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict.  

Courtney Stone is a Jane Austen addict, having read every single Austen book multiple times. She has recently come off a rather nasty break-up, and she self-medicated with vodka and ice cream. When she wakes up, she finds herself in early 19th century England, the daughter of a wealthy gentleman. While in the body of Jane Mansfield (get it? ha ha), she has to figure out how to survive in the nineteenth century with twenty-first century sensibilities, especially with a mother who is more than willing to put her thirty-year old daughter in an asylum. Courtney tries to figure out how to get back to the future while not messing up Jane's life too much. 

The concept is interesting, though the execution is lacking. I always wonder if books are actually read by editors and proof-readers, or if they are green-lighted because Jane Austen is in the title. The author tries to explain how Courtney goes back in time, but that is difficult with the first-person narration, because Courtney doesn't know how she went back in time. This made the time plot confusing. Combine that with Courtney waxing philosophical and I spent a good bit of the time confused on how she went back in time. Much of her inner thought process was her asking herself questions--questions that are never answered by the end of the book. On page 101: 
So what will become of who I really am? What will become of that bundle of memories called Courtney, my real self that resides, hidden from view, inside this body? Will I/it slowly disappear, inexorably surrender to the onslaught of synaptic activities, the cumulative effect of cellular memory that is now evolving into conscious thought?
Courtney is obsessed with how people smell in the past, making sure she has sufficient baths and a handkerchief to mask her face. Much mention is made of how the people smell. She is also obsessed with her new looks. In her old life she was a petite, dumpy blonde, while Jane was tall, slender, and brunette. Even by the end of the book she is still babbling on about how unused she is to her new body. 

Courtney also gets quite caught up in what is acceptable and not acceptable for a woman of that time. I am surprised that she does not know how to act since she is such an "addict". There are also a few quibbles I have with the plotting. Pre-Courtney, Jane seems to have formed an attachment to a servant in her father's house. Her friend Mary, whose brother courts Jane, mistakenly thought that her brother fathered a servant's child and wishes him to marry said servant! p. 113
"Of course I suggested that Charles marry the girl, despite the fact that all our friends would shun her society. And his."
"He said he was sorry for her but he had no intention of taking on another man's duties. He is the most unfeeling creature I have ever known."

Um, no? Jane Austen's heroes always married their social equals--never a servant! This wouldn't even have happened in reality, and I can't imagine that a gently-bred miss would even consider that her brother marry a servant. England's society was very rigid and very difficult to cross.

Overall, I found the book a very interesting idea, but lacking in execution, a project run out of time. Had this been a project in my class, I'd grade it on the D+/C- level. 

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