Sunday, April 7, 2013

Review: Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler

Confessions of a Jane Austen AddictConfessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

People had warned me against reading this book. But, when I saw it was up for grabs on audio from my local library, I couldn't resist. I found myself glad I'd approached it with an open mind. It was far from perfect, but not terrible, either.

The book opens with Courtney Stone thinking she's having a lucid dream, sparked by one too many bedtime readings of Pride and Prejudice. She's in Regency England, and everyone is calling her "Jane" or "Miss Mansfield." It takes her a while to catch on that she's actually woken up in Jane's body, and Jane has probably taken over her life.

She's mostly delighted to be in a time she's read so much about (she claims to have read both Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility 20 times apiece), though the realities of the time period are less than ideal. People smell bad, the social situation is stifling, and her (Jane's) mother is a harridan who threatens to send her to a mental ward when she tries to tell her the truth.

But then there's Mr. Charles Edgeworth, and his charming sister, Mary. And there's a visit to Bath, which doesn't stack up to her expectations, and a trip to London. Ditto. Courtney's observations show us a lot of the side details that Jane Austen leaves out of her books, either because the reader would be familiar with them, or for etiquette's sake. Courtney even engages servants, and learns what their lives are like, when they're practically invisible in Austen's works.

While I understand Courtney, as a modern woman, chafing against the rigidity of the social rules, her outspokenness seems thoughtless. For someone who's read each of Jane Austen's books over a dozen times apiece and watched the movies and BBC specials, she clearly hasn't figured out that the manners work differently, and that there's only so much room for rebellion. How someone can consume so much Austen in such a short space of time and absorb nothing about the social structure, I'll never know. But then, most of the plot revolves around her acceptance of these rules, so there would be a much less satisfying conclusion without that stupidity on her part.

The magic in the story that brings her to the past is thinly done. There's no world-building to it; it's all hand-wavy deus ex machina. The fortune teller who gives Courtney the information about how to return home (while still remaining cryptic and unhelpful—argh) is able to teleport a necklace into Courtney's purse, but apparently needs it handed to her from there.

I did find myself caring about what happens to Courtney, even if I thought her belly button gazing could've been trimmed without any harm to the narrative. I liked her snark, and I liked that she did learn, eventually. I also liked the parallel of her story with that of other Jane Austen heroines.

I really could've done without her accidentally bumping into Jane Austen in London, though. That scene added nothing, except to highlight Courtney's stupidity.

I listened to the book on audio, narrated by Orlagh Cassidy. She was able to switch between Courtney's modern American and her spoken genteel English accent easily. Though, her pronunciation of "empire" bothered me. And that word shows up a lot, as Courtney complains constantly about how unflattering a style it is.

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