Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict

September 7, 2009 at 12:00 am 4 comments

The woman’s dress is long and drab with a large white apron, down to the floor. The man’s suit and vest look like cast-offs from the Merchant-Ivory costume department. Even his glasses are vintage.

But that’s not the least of it. This is clearly not my room.

When I saw this book on the library shelf last week, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to allow all of those Jane Austen derivatives a chance to redeem themselves. Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict was not a title I had heard, nor was Laurie Viera Rigler an author I was familiar with, but the premise seemed interesting: LA resident Courtney Stone nurses a breakup with Absolut and Pride and Prejudice, only to wake up in Regency-era England as a woman named Jane Mansfield.

Rigler exceeded my expectations in a few ways. First, I admire her for not recycling a plot directly from Jane Austen. Instead, Rigler creates new characters and a new plot based on Austen types, such as the Intimidating Matriarch and the Antisocial Handsome Squire, and placing it in Austen-esque settings like the Enormous Country Manor, Bath, and the Stylish London Flat. While I am tempted to think that it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Rigler created a new plot to avoid working with the challenges of an old one, I have to applaud her for not giving into any temptation to write a Mary Sue-meets-Mr-Darcy type novel or, God forbid, another P&P sequel.

Second, Rigler delights in exposing the more unpleasant side of living in the Regency. She has done her research and is fully aware of the hygienic practices of the day — or lack thereof. Chamber pots, typhus, menstruation, oozing sores in public baths, and the occasional doctor-sanctioned bloodletting all make appearances in this novel, much to the protagonist’s horror. While it makes sense that Austen would refrain from mentioning chamber pots in her novels (how many current authors regularly talk about toilets?), Rigler uses them to great effect in this story, effectively dashing the romantic fantasies of every Janeite who reads it.

Though these aspects of Rigler’s work were better than I expected, there are still a few caveats any potential lector should be aware of. While I complimented Rigler on her use of an original plot, it’s not terribly original. Essentially, it’s the sort of thing you would find in chick lit — a sexual misunderstanding, a seeming cad who turns out to be a gentleman after all, supportive best friend, etc.

One of the most original aspects of the plot is Courtney’s time-travel. There is mention made of memories she has that are not hers but Jane’s, other characters make reference to Jane  having told them stories earlier about Rosa Parks and Abraham Lincoln , and there is a fortune teller who suggests that Jane Mansfield is currently living Courtney’s life. However, Rigler leaves much of this explained, resulting in plot holes and a frustrating deus ex machina ending that comes as if from nowhere.

Part of the problem might be that I haven’t read Rigler’s other novel, Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, which I took to be the same book under a different title when I saw it on the shelf. This work tells Jane’s story and ties up a rather frustrating loose end or two from Confessions. While it may clear up some of the minor problems, I am not positive that a second book would fix the ending. Additionally, if  Rude Awakenings is meant to be a companion novel rather than a sequel, I cannot help but think that Rigler should have combined the two into one and saved the reader some frustration.

Actually, I may blame the editor, not the writer, for failing to recognize the potential here. I also blame the editor for not informing Rigler that she depends far too heavily on paragraphs consisting entirely of questions to build suspense. Or should I blame them? Is it possible I am being unfair to poor, overworked editors? Is the entire staff of Dutton reading this entry in horror right now? Are the editors plotting revenge against me at this very moment? Might I be dead by the time you read this, having been staked through the heart by an editorial red pen?

Probably not. But you can see how annoying that technique is.

If you are a true Janeite, you may find this book worth borrowing, though I would recommend reading it and its companion together — perhaps even experimenting with alternating chapters.

PS: Interesting trivia — Rigler went to college in my old hometown, right down the street from where I went to college. Just so you all know I’m human, I feel a little bad for knocking her now that I know that.
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Entry filed under: Contemporary Fiction, Romance and Chick Lit. Tags: , .

Timely Rereadings A Great and Terrible Beauty

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Corey  |  September 10, 2009 at 4:53 am

    Companion novels are an interesting breed. I think authors should really just combine them, particularly if they are just two sides to one story. (Yes, I mean you, Ms. Meyer.)

    Anyway, thank you for pre-testing all my possible Jane knock-off literature!

    Reply
    • 2. KT  |  September 10, 2009 at 10:35 am

      Oh, there’s more, sadly. I am still trying to figure out how to write a post on The Jane Austen Book Club. :\

      Reply
      • 3. Corey  |  September 10, 2009 at 10:40 am

        Is that the one they made a movie out of? The cast looked amazing, if so!

        Reply
      • 4. KT  |  September 10, 2009 at 10:49 am

        Yeah, sadly the book wasn’t as stellar as the cast looked :\

        Reply

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