Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo is a surprisingly fast and fun read, and I found myself unable to put it down at times. The plot revolves around wishful thinking: WHAT IF Jane Austen’s sister Cassandra saved more of her letters than we know about? What if the missing correspondence is hidden somewhere protected from the public?
This knowledge has English professor and devoted Jane Austen scholar Emma Grant salivating. Her academic reputation is in tatters after her husband and his teaching assistant (and paramour) accuse her of plagiarism. Newly divorced and denied tenure, Dr. Grant travels to London hot on the trail of the rumored missing letters. There she meets up with Mrs. Gwendolyn Parrot, a Formidable, who tantalizingly allows Emma to read a copied snippet of Jane’s missing letters. Scholar that she is, Emma immediately recognizes Jane’s handwriting and the (seeming) authenticity of the fragment. To be certain, she would have to read a copy of the original.
After extracting a promise of secrecy from Emma, Mrs. Parrot sends her on a series of tasks, in which Emma visits Steventon, Chawton Cottage, Bath … well, you get the drift … all the places that Jane Austen either lived in or traveled to. Emma’s motives for going through all this trouble are the possibilities of handling the actual letters and researching them. Her resulting book would salvage her academic reputation. Traveling with Emma is an old flame who, coincidentally, is staying in the same flat as Emma. Does he know of her secret or is he truly as interested in her as he claims? His presence adds to the mystery and suspense of the plot. The book is a fast read and I found it completely satisfying until the very end. While Emma finds her own definition of a happy ending (which, I will concede, made logical sense), I wanted to scream out “No!” and rewrite that ending. You see, romantic that I am, I do believe that people can have their cake and eat it too.
Beth Pattillo’s latest novel reads less like a Jane Austen sequel and more like a The Da Vinci Code offspring. Consequently it will appeal to a broader audience than most Austenesque books. Having said that, the plot is not wholly original . There are echoes of Syrie James’s The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen (in which Jane’s lost manuscript is uncovered and in which she describes a lost love) and Lori Smith’s A Walk With Jane Austen (in which Lori visits the places where Jane lived or traveled). The author, whose writing style is elegant and spare, has written eight other popular books, including the award winning Heavens to Betsy. You can visit her at http://www.bethpattillo.com for more information.
Jane Austen Ruined My life, a Guideposts Book, is slated to come out on February 3rd. 978-0-8249-4771-2, $14.99. Order a copy at this link.
I give it 3 regency fans out of 3.