When I was asked to review The Particular Charm of Miss Jane Austen, I had no idea what the story was about, the cover giving only the vaguest idea that it might have something to do with the lovely topaz necklaces that were a gift to Jane and her sister from their seafaring brother Charles. Was it Jane’s personal charm, or this actual, physical charm that the story was about? The answer was to be a little of both.
With vivid detail, authors Ada Bright and Cass Grafton set their stage: the opening of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath. In a tale of art imitates life, one might suspect, two longtime internet friends are about to meet for the first time in person and partake of the delights Bath has to offer. The city, sights and excitement of the festival come to life in a way that must make all of us who have never been long for a taste of that happiness which comes when “good people get together”. Those who have had a chance to enjoy the festival must revisit these scenes of past pleasure once again with delight.
While seemingly straightforward enough, two young ladies ready for love, two single men in want of wives, the story takes a dramatic twistpart way through the novel. It appears (as the reader has already suspected) that Rose Wallace’s reclusive upstairs neighbor is none other than a time traveling Jane Austen, intent on discovering the fascination surrounding her life and works. In a swift turn of events, Jane loses her time traveling ability through the loss of her topaz cross (her “particular charm”) and the game, as they say, is afoot.
Jane and Rose find themselves in a Frank Capraesque situation, left standing in a modern world from which the original Jane Austen disappeared in 1803 – seven years before her first novels were published. In this unique way, the reader is forced to reconcile to a world with no Austen novels, no Darcys or Elizabeths and, seemingly, no happy ending. How does Jane adapt to modern life (and what is our current predilection for putting people in boxes: phones, televisions, computers and otherwise)? How would daily life change for us, for me and for you, if there never had been Jane Austen, the author?
At first glance, perhaps, nothing extraordinary might be noted, but how about friendships and businesses built on Jane’s work? What about people and pets named for Jane’s characters; actors, actresses and locations famed for their appearance in Jane’s films, or even English majors left without this sparkling voice to study? Entire sections of bookstores and the internet would be left a blank.
Because it has always been so, I never stopped to consider life without Jane. This novel forced me to do so, but in a way in which I knew there just must be a way back; a chance to right this terrible wrong. As Jane and Rose sort their way through this new universe, the novel evolves again, this time uncovering a centuries old mystery, which, if solved, might reset the timeline once again. The race is on, and with the help of some “new” old friends, it might just be possible.
Ada and Cass, two longtime friends who met on a literary chat board long before crossing the Atlantic to meet in person, are no doubt the models for the friendship Rose and Morgan share. What they have created together, as joint authors, is something “in a style entirely new”—a book that seems to be one thing but jumps genres each time you think you have it figured out. This keeps the pace fresh and fast, even at 357 pages, and the hint of more to come can only delight the reader who has fallen in love with the characters, both old and new.
Although this is set in September (with a firsthand walk through of the Jane Austen Festival and many shout outs to local businesses and eateries) I could not shake the feeling of it being a Christmas story—perhaps because of the It’s a Wonderful Life tone; perhaps because of the Christmas Eve type anticipation which came each time I had to put the novel down. (What would happen next? With two authors it was anything but predictable!) This is definitely a story for long winter nights by a cosy fire. Anyone coming into this thinking that they know what to expect is in for a surprise. And any reader, like myself, with no idea what to expect had better hang on, because it’s going to be a ride!
- Paperback: £12.99 / Kindle: £4.61
- Paperback: 368 pages
- Publisher: Brown Dog Books (24 Jun. 2016)
- Language: English
Laura Boyle is fascinated by all aspects of Jane Austen’s life. She is the proprietor of Austentation: Regency Accessories, creating custom hats, bonnets, reticules and more for customers around the globe. Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends is her first book. Her greatest joy is the time she is able to spend in her home with her family (1 amazing husband, 4 adorable children and a very strange dog).