I didn’t expect to love this book so much! I know that’s a strange way to start a review, but bear with me. I really love Jane Austen’s work and tend to be a bit of a purist. There are so many books (and TV shows and films) that draw on her world, the characters she created and the plots she crafted to launch spin-offs and, while some are very good, many are not. I mostly resist them – and likely to my own detriment (an early disappointment warned me away). But it was reading a glowing review, that lead me to buy this book.
I am so glad I did.
It opens in Jane Austen’s time and with Jane at the centre of the story, being courted by a young man when, all she really wants to do is write. When her heart is – not broken, shaken might be a better description – Jane takes an extraordinary step and, in doing so, finds herself catapulted into Bath in the Twenty-First Century and onto a film set where, believe it or not, the crew and actors are filming a Jane Austen adaptation.
When Jane left her time, she’d never been published – in our time, she is a literary heroine. As she learns to navigate our world, befriending a fading film star and her rather unfriendly brother, she not only discovers how popular she is, but learns to follow her heart.
The more she immerses herself in our time, the less impact she starts to make as her works fade from history and thus the here and now, rendering her work and their profound impact immaterial. Which raises the question the book poses: if Jane Austen had the choice between heart and pen, what do you think she would do?
Givney answers this, and allows the reader to ask and seek their own answer as well – what would they do in Jane’s shoes? What would they want her to do? It’s this part of the book that I simultaneously enjoyed, but as a feminist and writer, also found frustrating – which, let me tell you, I loved as well! I so appreciate books that make me really ponder, question my ideals, the impositions and roles imposed upon the sexes – now and then – and how we navigate these. As a writer, I struggled with the idea there had to be a choice between heart and head. Why writers are perceived as having to emotionally suffer (the starving artist in the garret trope jumps to mind) to produce worthwhile work. That whole, ‘no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader’ mantra – or the fact the best art comes from pain. But I think Givney pays tribute to these notions and explores them in a believable way.
Overall, this is a book that I’m still thinking about and recommend for lovers of Austen, all things “Jane”, and who like to be both frustrated and challenged and enjoy a damn fine read.