Update! The paperback edition of this novel is available at this link.
I became hooked on time travel stories watching Somewhere in Time with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. Then I read Jude Devereux’s Knight in Shining Armor and fell so in love with the characters and improbable plot that I began to actively seek out time travel novels. I discovered from reading Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander and watching the recent television presentation of Lost in Austen that I prefer stories that take a character back in history over those in which a person is transported to our time. This is simply a matter of taste. So I beg of you, gentle reader, to keep my little bias in mind as you read this review of Laurie Viera Rigler’s latest book, whose cover of Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict appropriately depicts a Regency woman wearing an ipod.
Having traveled back to the Regency era in Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, Courtney Stone is now living Jane Mansfield’s life. It happened like this: One evening, the very American, extremely modern Courtney is grieving over the end of her engagement to a cad and the betrayal of her best male friend, Wes. The next morning she wakes up in Regency England in the body of a tall, elegant woman whose relationship with her mother can best be described as rotten. Confessions ended with Courtney falling in love with Jane’s beau, Mr. Edgeworth, and overcoming the inconvenience of living without indoor plumbing or electricity. But if Courtney has taken over Jane Mansfield’s body and life, what became of her regency counterpart?
In Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict the reader discovers that poor Jane Mansfield has been transported into Courtney’s shorter, curvier body after a fall from a horse and has landed smack dab in a modern apartment in Los Angeles. Horror of horrors, nothing that Jane has ever known is recognizable in this strange environment, nothing except for Pride and Prejudice. The 1995 A&E version is playing on television as Jane examines her strange surroundings. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth are mere illusions but Jane confuses their ethereal transmissions for the real thing. She is rapturous when she comes across Jane Austen’s novels on Courtney’s bookshelves, happily discovering that more were published than the two she’d known about. The books provide her with her first emotional security blanket, for up to that moment everything Jane has seen, heard, and touched in this new world has been surreal and mind-boggling. As Jane says to a fortune teller who helps her sort out her confusion, “If I am not asleep, how can I be anything but awake?”
One imagines that Courtney had a much easier time adjusting to the past, for she’d been a Jane Austen addict, and had had the opportunity to study the regency era in history books and novels. Poor Jane Mansfield had no such knowledge about 2009, for who in 1813 could have forecast the invention of microwave ovens, cars, cell phones, planes, elevators, high rise buildings, computers, refrigerators, and – wonder of wonders – efficient showers and toilets? And then there were the clothes. How was a self-respecting Regency Miss supposed to wear those indecently skimpy outfits and hoydenish makeup that her new friends put on without blushing?
Thankfully, Courtney’s body has retained a visceral 21st-century memory of dressing, driving and using appliances, giving Jane some time to recover her equilibrium and sort out her bewildering surroundings. When life becomes too crushing for her, she happily hunkers down to read Emma or Mansfield Park, or watch the marvelous movie adaptations of Jane’s novels. Despite those few moments of bliss, there are still many modern customs that Jane must learn. She is both intrigued and appalled that women must work for a living, for isn’t this an activity reserved for working class women? And yet the working women she meets enjoy riches and freedoms that she could only dream about in her constricted regency world. Then there is the situation with her rotten ex-fiance and ex-best friend, Wes, whose gentle presence is at odds with the antipathy Jane’s new friends feel toward him. Wes is just the sort of Mark II hero that this reviewer loves – sweet, warm, cuddly, and handsome – and I rooted for him to win Jane’s hand despite the evidence of his betrayal.
Rude Awakenings ties up the plot threads left dangling in Confessions, and I was pleasantly surprised to have my many questions answered in a sensible way, especially about Jane’s terrible mother. Of the two books, I did prefer Confessions, but please do recall my bias towards those who travel backwards, not forwards. Having spent a satisfying couple of evenings reading this latest installment of Laurie’s series, I would like to see her write a third one in which the descendants of the Jane Austen Addict characters are united. In my imagined plot I see Courtney writing an extensive journal about her Regency experiences which languishes on the dusty shelves of an antique book seller for over 150 years. This document is discovered by Jane’s daughter, a confirmed Jane Austen addict and romance novelist. She visits England in 2034 in search of archived information about the Mansfield and Wentworth families after her mother confesses a few pertinent bits of information about her Regency past. During her quest, Jane’s daughter meets a haughty male descendant of Courtney’s, a handsome but priggish Jane Austen scholar, who discounts Courtney’s journal as the rantings of an insane relative. The two young descendants disagree, sparks fly, she suggests a DNA test, and they then …. well, use your imagination.
Meanwhile, I can think of no better way of spending a Sunday afternoon than to curl up in a hammock and read Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict. Just make sure to have enough ice tea and sun screen at hand, for you won’t be able to put this gently humorous book down until you are finished. Three out of three Regency fans.