1.24.2010

Review: Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, and Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, both by Laurie Viera Rigler

Hello, everyone. My name is Lauren, and I am a Jane Austen addict. (All chime in with a staggered "Hi Lauren.")

I was not aware that there was so much Jane Austen-related time-traveling fiction. I suppose it is only to be expected. After all, what Janeite wouldn't want to travel back to the Regency era, even if only for a day, and meet some reasonable facsimile of Darcy or Knightley or even a Willoughby? It's okay to admit it. With the recent release of the BBC miniseries "Lost in Austen," that desire has, I'm sure, become more of a desperate need. And that series is, I find, the closest thing that I may compare these books to.

But instead of two women stepping through a threshold in a bathroom, into fictional England (and Amanda forever resigning herself to a life inside of a book), here one soul seems to stretch itself out across the ceaseless expanse of seamless time, reverse its polarity, and contract over our story. As a result, a 32 yr old from Los Angeles who hits her head in 2009 ends up switching bodies, accents and cellular memories with a 30-year-old British woman in 1813. Some sort of shape-shifting gypsy seems to be at the root of the issue, but the fact is they've both hit their heads in their respective centuries. This has to be fate.

The two novels are meant to be read back-to-back and in order. So read Confessions first. If you reverse it, you'll be completely lost and probably somewhat disappointed. Let the story tell itself, don't go seeking answers by trying to read them in-tandem. If you do that, not only will you confuse yourself, but you won't get the answers you're looking for. Best to wait until you've finished both.

In Confessions, we follow our modern Janeite (Courtney Stone) who has been dropped into the body and living of a Jane Mansfield. Whilst there, we're treated to a good deal of historical "behind the scenes" business of everyday life in 1813, making it a great deal similar to that bit of fluff I read last week, What Would Jane Austen Do?

But it's not the same. At first, getting into Courtney's head was kind of disheartening because she seemed so much less educated than Laurie Brown's heroine. The way she thought and conversed was much more "idle-movie-watching-Janeite" than "fanciful-book-reading-Janeite" and I almost put the book down. But as she began to remember her host's life and as she started fumbling through her relationships, I took pity on her. She began to try and make amends with Jane Mansfield's would-be-fiance, and I started to realize how very like Amanda Price she was, except that Jane Mansfield is no fictional character with a script to be carried out. This plot is much more reliant on the presence of fate and of free will. Once Courtney/Jane begins to exercise that free will, she's much more likable.

As for Jane Austen, since she hasn't written this script, one wonders where she will turn up - and whether she is only a host, herself, for this proverbial literary Star Trek convention. In Laurie Brown's book, the heroine agrees to go back in time with the promise of potentially meeting Austen. In these novels, those for whom fate stretches time have no choice and no motives in trading places, but in a way the outcome is similar. For Courtney, she does in fact run into Jane Austen and scares the poor woman with her talk of novels that have not been published and knowing that she is the lady authoress, and foretelling all sorts of fame for the poor spinster who only wished to buy gloves that afternoon. For Jane Mansfield who - as you may have guessed - is now residing in Courtney's body in 2009, her introduction is a little different.

In Rude Awakenings we follow poor Jane Mansfield whose very first morning in 2009 is spent in more confusion than a newborn. Of all places, quiet country Jane has been dropped into Los Angeles. Poor girl. Jane is quite a different Austen fan. Being from 1813, there are only 2 Austen novels published - Pride & Prejudice, and Sense & Sensibility. So when she arrives in a land where there are 6 full-length Austen novels, and countless film representations, one imagines it is quite as fulfilling as meeting Austen, herself.

In a way, I enjoyed Rude Awakenings more. That could be because I already had the backstory of the first book and wasn't feeling my way around 2 characters as I had to in the first one. But even taken out of the context of these particular novels, Jane Mansfield is already of an age. She's period - so her reactions to the world are a little more predictable, and even then, a little more interesting. In "Lost in Austen" we don't really see how Amanda adapts to Georgian England. We get that she does, but were it not for Darcy, she would have gone back home and brushed her teeth and enjoyed the 21st century. But we do see Elizabeth Bennet embrace her modern life quite well.

And I think in a way that's why Jane's stumbling around 2009 was more interesting - she has very few memories from Courtney (in the beginning at least), but there's a great deal to be said of cellular memory. Courtney's had a computer for probably 15 years. Her keyboard memory is, well, key. Jane doesn't even need to look at the letters when she steps into this host, because it's all, uh, spelled out for her. And with that, she has the world at her fingertips. Anything she wants to know, she can find it on the internet. Would that the internet had existed in 1813 - Courtney might have had an easier time of things. Cellular memory of embroidery and dancing can only get her so far.

The humor of the second book made its writing feel superior to the first. It's much funnier watching Jane stumble around as Courtney and finding out what vodka is, than it is to watch Courtney, in Jane's lithe and well-balanced body, fret about the sanitary conditions of Bath. It's understandable, it's just not really funny. We also don't really understand the outcome of the first book until the very end of the second. What will happen to Courtney and Jane? What about the memories they've still not regained? Will they be able to change back to their own bodies, their own time? Do they even want to? What about Courtney's ex-fiance Frank? Will things ever get settled with him? And what of our shape-shifting gypsy? The novels took me a day apiece to read. Even if you don't read that fast, they're worth picking up.

Special thanks to Gevalia Coffe from Gevalia Kaffee. I fell asleep writing this blog last night and woke up to all sorts of repeated rows of letters and misspelled words. Fortunately, Gevalia sent me a little sample of their signature blend, and even more fortunately I own a french press. I only dozed off once this morning while typing this all out. Yay coffee.

Next up, Nocturnes by John Connelly, because if I read another Austen-related novel this week, I'll never get the 1813 vocabulary and phrasing out of my head. Seriously. Yesterday, someone called the office to see if they could exchange into today's performance of Bye Bye Birdie, which is sold out. I told them "I sincerely apologize, but as the production is reaching its conclusion it is becoming increasing unlikely that we shall have the pleasure of securing your attendance at tomorrow's performance." And it doesn't help that I watched the most recent film adaptation of Sense & Sensibility yesterday, either.

1 comment:

  1. Whoever you spoke to should have been thrilled to reach such a delightful person! What a hoot.

    This happens to me to. I find myself saying things like Take a turn and 'your excellent mother.' LOL

    ReplyDelete

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