Book Review: Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict
Author: Laurie Viera Riegler
Plot summary: Courtney Stone, a 21st century L.A. young woman, wakes up in the body of Jane Mansfield, a 19th century signel young lady - and as such, still living at her parents'. She then has to pretend being Jane, while discovering with amazement and adapting to the style of life of her favorite heroins.
As you might have guessed after just one look at the blog's logo, I am obviously very fond of the England from the second half of the 18th century and the 19th century. I may not call myself a Jane Austen Addict (yet!), but still, I have read her six novels and am a big fan, both of her stories (characters, plot, style...) and her time (and the way she writes about it).
Which is why I decided to read Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict earlier this year. Unfortunately, I did not take the time to write the review right away, and my memories tend to blurr a little, but fortunately, I had the sense to make a few notes for further use...
My first impression of the book was very good. It is very easy to read, the style is quite light. And I must admit that, at first, I was really enthusiastic about the story. It felt very good, because it hadn't happened to me in quite a while: it was finally a book which I longed to read, which I opened anytime I had 2 or 3 minutes of idleness ahead, which I would read until late in the night.
What I also really enjoyed was that it is not a mere fan service book, copying and mimicking Jane Austen's characters and style. Courtney's discroveries about 19th century England, and especially the treatment of women, and the comparison with her 21st century life is the starting point of a certain number of reflections. And the purpose is not just to say that things are far better now and that the 19th century was a very sexist time. Reflections go both ways and each era appears as a point of comparison for the other. For instance, I appreciated the chapter about menstruations very much, and although I might have thought such a theme a bit embarrassing at first, I did not feal embarrassed in the least and found it quite instructive.
Something that I found quite clever as a writing technique was the use of a character who is not from this world, and therefore, does not necessarily know all of its codes. It is indeed very clever, because then, the reader can discover Jane Austen's universe through the eyes of someone who shares, more or less, their knowledge. Thus, it is not juste a story set in the 19th century (as Jane Austen's novels somehow are), it is a kind of documentary on the period. Indeed, as Jane Austen does not feel the necessity to describe what would be obvious to the readership she was writing for (how to manage menstruations, how to eat and when, how to interact with the servants...), those details are not always obvious to us modern readers.
But this is about all the compliments I can pay to this book, for I also found many faults in there...
The first problem, it seems to me, is: is really Courtney a Jane Austen Addict? And if the reader feels he or she is one, can he or she really relate to her?
Indeed, Courtney may have read all of Jane Austen's novels, she admits that she is not a very literary person, and that she first discovered Jane Austen's universe through the BBC mini-series Pride and Prejudice. Now, I just watched it and I found it marvellous, but is this type of person representative of the Jane Austen Addict community? Wouldn't this community, on the contrary, kind of frown upon such a person? (not that I approve of the frowning, though...) She says herself that she feels too intimidated by the hardcore fans community and does not feel like she belongs to it... And even without taking this into accound, how can one be labelled Jane Austen Addict and know so little about Jane Austen's world? How can she have so little understanding as to what was considered as proper behaviour (espacially towards the opposite sex), whereas it is a very central theme to all of Jane Austen's novels?! As I said earlier, using an ignorant character and narrator was a brilliant idea in some regards, but how is it linked to the title, then? Of all the Jane Austen Addicts in the world (somehow including the reader...), why on Earth was she chosen to live such a wonderful experience?
It may very well be because I married my second boyfriend, but I also found very hard to relate to her in more general terms. I don't nurse myself with a glass of wine (well, because I don't like wine, or any type of alcoholic beverage...) while re-reading Pride and Prejudice whenever I face a sentimental failure or deception. Her kind of desperate attitude towards men in the present, and over-sexual one (considering) in the past caused more annoyance and irritation than compassion in me. Also, although at first, I was not very interested about her flash-backs, because I wanted to read about 19th century stuff, around the end of the book, I think I remember I got more interested in the 21st century story than in the 19th century one... Looks like there is no real balance here between the two eras and their respective episodes...
And what is it with Courney's fixation on makeup?! Again, I very seldom put makeup on, but still, I think it ought not to be a central theme in a 21st century novel... And again, how come she knows so little about the customs surrounding what seems to be her obsession in this supposedly favorite period of time of hers? The inconsistency of the main character is once again revealed when she finally gets to actually meet Jane Austen in person: why does she have to keep talking about the films, while Jane Austen has no idea whatsoever what she is talking about, shows very little interest in it anyway, and is very surprised at some of her characters being described as (something like) "so handsome!" while this is not how she described him (but apparently, it is how he appears in the movie...)... I totally understand that the author wanted her character to lose it when she met her idol, but this was probably the most embarrassing passage of the book, in which I felt most detached from Courtney...
My final criticism will be that from some point on, I did not understand the author's intentions and I also failed to understand some aspects of the book. Mr Edgeworth was a big failure. I totally failed to understand him, or Courtney's feelings towards him. They are so changing... Of course, one might point at Elizabeth's feelings towards Mr Darcy evolving with time and better knowledge and comprehension of his character, but in this book, Courtney keeps going back and forth in her appreciation of him... But what I really didn't understand at all, was the whole comparison between the two worlds, the meeting with the fortune-teller/witch, and the ending... Is this experience supposed to make Courney understand something about her 21st century life? And if so, what is the message??
As a conclusion, I enjoyed reading this book, although more at the beginning than at the end. I regret that the character is not more of a hardcore Jane Austen addict and that she sometimes behaves in very stupid ways.
And you may be surprised, but the sequel, Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, is on the list I sent to Santa for this Christmas! Indeed, considering what I liked most in this book (discovering Jane Austen's world) and what I liked less (Courtney's lack of self-control and understanding of the social rules of the period), perhaps seeing 21st century L.A. through Jane Mansfield's eyes will give me a better insight into Jane Austen's point of view about society
Tags : England, Jane Austen, #LoveJaneAusten, USA, book
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