The Man Who Loved Jane Austen by Sally Smith O’Rourke

I am “the woman who loved this book.” Or rather, “a” woman, since no doubt, you (and that includes you, menfolk) will love it, too. This book combines what we love best about the sequels: mystery, an intriguing modern story with Austen story parallels, talk of the novels’ stories and characters, Austen’s own world, and love in each of the preceding.

 It begins with an intriguing glimpse of Jane herself and then launches 200 years into the future to New York City, a mystery-containing antique, our protagonist Eliza (yes, it’s deliberate), and two very handsome strangers—one at Pemberley Farms and the other in the New York City Library—who turn out to be the same man.

 Thus the good times begin.

 If you are as much a “sucker” to a romantic man of true goodness, you will easily be o’erwhelmed here: Eliza experiences Austen shock as she ventures into the world of Pemberley and meets—you ready for this?—Fitzwilliam Darcy, who nearly runs her over on his magnificent horse on his grand estate; she proceeds to be rescued, thrown atop a horse for the first time, and nestled all the way back to the “great house.” There she meets the modern version of Caroline Bingley (crossed with Anne de Bourgh, since Darcy and her mother intended the two to marry) who frightens everyone but Darcy with her tantrums and death threats. She disdains walking, just as we’d expect, but this detail is one of many that O’Rourke manages to embed in the text subtly enough that you might not notice if you weren’t an Austen devotee, but of course you are, and you will.

 A sampler: Darcy strikes Eliza as arrogant (she needs to learn her error). Eliza’s cat—you’ll love this method of revenge on the bastard—is Wickham. Jenny, the descendant of the Darcy family slaves, and a true friend to Eliza at Pemberley, tells her that Darcy is the best of men, just as Mrs. Reynolds does in P&P. Darcy gives Jane a charm for the cross her sea-faring brother gave her (this is too good—Jane=Fanny, Darcy=Crawford, Frank Austen=William Price). Darcy even has a hunter green coat as Colin Firth does in the BBC. I’m in Austen heaven here, picking up details from our whole history together!

 Without wanting to spoil your own upcoming delight, let me just say that Eliza is in the somewhat unenviable position of competing romantically with Jane Austen herself—how that happens I leave you to learn by reading—and when you understand how, the cover that seems cheesy will suddenly make sense as yet another clever detail that went into creating this book.

I cried when I finished it—not because I was sad it was over (which I was), but because the story’s end gives Jane’s voice the kindness, class, and romantic spirit for which readers love her, and because, had she lived in our time, perhaps her own life could have afforded her more of the joys she has given to readers for all posterity.

Published in: on January 6, 2011 at 7:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

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