According to Jane
by Marilyn Brant
Review by Laurel Ann Nattress
Here’s a new novel that tugged at my heart strings and validated my belief that if the world was run according to Jane Austen, we would be much smarter and happier. Enuff said!
Fifteen-year old Ellie Barnett is a bookish geek. She excels at academics, but according to her caustic older sister, she is digging herself into a hole of permanent unpopularity with her scraggly hair, lack of make-up, and inattention to fashion. There is however, one boy who since kindergarten has paid her a bit more attention than she is comfortable with. Sam Blaine may be good-looking, athletic, brainy, and popular – but he is trouble – and just happens to sit behind her in English class taunting her with pokes in the back with his pencil and sexual innuendo. When she cracks open her next reading assignment, a copy of Pride and Prejudice, she begins to hear voices. Jane Austen’s British voice to be exact, interjecting observations and advice, specifically warning Ellie to beware of Sam Blaine. He is her Wickham, that charming scoundrel that wooed Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice and then eloped with her younger sister Lydia. Ellie does not doubt the advice, just the whole hearing voices thing really freaks her out her out. Jane Austen’s spirit has somehow inhabited her mind, commenting in her acerbic early nineteenth-century sensibility on Ellie’s 1980’s life and romances and she does not know why.
Over the course of twenty years, we follow Ellie through her life challenges as a single women looking for love and happiness in what Jane Austen deems to be a morally confusing world. Who of us could ever forget their own first love, the painful realization that you are being used, or the first time you were dumped? As Jane offers Ellie witty and wise advice on family conflicts, career choices, and a barrage of bad boyfriends that come and go, Ellie slowly realizes that she must learn some life lesson before she can move on. For Ellie, one painful lesson was bad-boy Sam who Jane advises to stay clear of yet she is still drawn too. As their lives keep crossing paths over the course of the years, they never seem to be at the right place at the right time to work it out. Ellie trusts and values Jane’s opinion. Who better to advise her than an author who is valued for her keen judgment of human nature and romantic insights? But with Sam, she holds strong prejudices. Could she be wrong? Is he really her Wickham, or could he be her Mr. Darcy?
What an unexpected, uplifting, and urbane debut novel! To paraphrase Jane Austen’s character Lady Catherine, Marilyn Brant has given us a treasure. Granted that there are hundreds of Jane Austen inspired novels written over the years, this totally unique and original concept of Austen’s ghost inhabiting and advising a modern young woman is brilliant. The play of early nineteenth-century social mores against twentieth-century culture is so droll that I laughed-out-loud several times in total recognition. Like Austen, Brant excels at characterization offering a heroine in Ellie Barnett that I could totally identify with, and a hero in Sam that is so endearingly flawed that any woman worthy of her worn out VHS copy of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries will be happy to swoon over. Subtly powerful and amusingly acerbic, you will be gently reproved into agreeing in the power of love to transform us all.
Publisher: Kensington Books (2009)
Trade paperback: (352) pages
Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart
by Beth Pattillo
A review by Laurel Ann Nattress
I have read a few Austenesque books in my day. Am I jaded? Hope not. I usually know by the end of the third chapter if it has wings: a fresh concept skillfully rendered, Austen allusions or her characters reverently portrayed and humor in the form of wit and irony, please. I know. It’s a tall order. I’m fastidious. But occasionally, and more frequently as of late, “every feature works.” Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart was a welcome surprise. It charmed me right down to my be-ribboned dancing slippers. Let me extol upon its charms.
Pragmatic heroine Claire Prescott is not nearly as keen on Jane Austen as her romantic young sister Missy who has earned a grant to attend a week-long Jane Austen seminar at Oxford University in England. Even though she has read Pride and Prejudice, she can not understand her sister’s passion for Mr. Darcy, that romantic icon that has fluttered thousands of hearts for the last two centuries. When pregnancy complications prevent her sister from attending, Claire steps in to present Missy’s paper despite her immediate need to hunt for a new job and attend her negligent sports crazed boyfriend Neil.
The dreaming spires of Oxford are captivating, but James Beaufort, a fellow attendee is most certainly not. Even though his noble mien just might rival Mr. Darcy in the rich, handsome, and haughty department, he is not Claire’s type and personalities clash. Meanwhile, a chance meeting with Harriet Dalrymple, an eccentric elderly woman who casually presents her with what could be the Holy Grail of Austenalia, the manuscript of First Impressions, the lost first draft of Pride and Prejudice is not what she expected. Surprisingly, this manuscript’s plot is different from Austen’s published novel and Claire is wary of its authenticity and Harriet’s claim to be one of the ‘Formidables’, a secret sect of Janeites safekeeping Austen manuscripts and letters thought to have been destroyed years ago. When James Beaufort’s attentions change their tact, her room is ransacked, others interested in the manuscript begin to threaten her and Neil’s unannounced arrival in Oxford complicates her confusing relationship with James, Claire, like Austen’s heroine Elizabeth Bennet must reevaluate her first impressions.
Sparkling, engaging and subtly humorous, brava, brava, brava to Beth Pattillo for knowing her Austen lore and cleverly weaving it into a contemporary romance that will enchant Austen fans and romance readers alike. What true Janeite could not be enthralled reading the long lost First Impressions manuscript, having a romance with a Mr. Darcy doppelganger and spending a holiday among the dreaming spires of Oxford University? *swoon* It was such a heady rush that this Anglophile was reading until the wee hours. Pattillo has succeeded in surpassing the charm and creativity of her last novel Jane Austen Ruined My Life and supplied us with a much more satisfying ending. My one trifling quibble, which I deign to mention, is that Miss Austen spelled Mr. Collins’ home Hunsford Parsonage, and not Huntsford. Easily overlooked in comparison to the scope of one of the best contemporary Austenesque novels that I have ever had the pleasure to read. Oh, and where can I sign up to be a ‘Formidable’?
Guideposts: New York (2010)
Trade paperback: (263) pages
Laurel Ann Nattress is a life-long acolyte of Jane Austen having been converted at a young age by the BBC/PBS 1979 mini-series Pride and Prejudice. Therefore, anyone who calls David Rintoul’s interpretation of Mr. Darcy wooden must be prepared for the consequences. On a whim she was inspired to create Austenprose, a blog honoring the brilliance of Jane Austen’s writing, and also co-blogs at Jane Austen Today, with Vic (Ms. Place). She delights in introducing neophytes to the charms of Miss Austen’s prose as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble. An expatriate of southern California, she lives near Seattle, Washington where it rains a lot.