It is a truth, universally acknowledged that if you use Jane Austen's name or one of her beloved titles into your own work you are guaranteed a bestseller (or, at the very least, a book deal). The gimmick has been done to death. How many romances and chick-lit books have a variation of Jane Austen in its story or title? Helen Fielding did it with Bridget Jones's Diary, and I've lost count of the many, many so-called sequels or retellings of Pride & Prejudice, Emma, Sense & Sensibility and Persuasion. And so, I picked up Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict with a certain level of skepticism. Here we go again, I thought. Another wannabe Jane Austen. However, I was drawn to this novel for two reasons. The most obvious is, of course, Jane Austen (it appears that the aforementioned gimmick does work). The other reason is that I love time travel stories -- well written and thoroughly researched time travel stories, that is. More on that later.
Courtney Stone is a thirty-year-old L.A. woman who has had it with men after she catches her fiancé cheating on her with the wedding cake baker. Add insult to injury, Wes, a man she thought she could trust, had been covering Frank. But that becomes the least of her problems when Courtney wakes up in 1813 England, inhabiting the body of a country bumpkin by the name of Jane Mansfield (yes, Jane as in Jane Austen and Mansfield as in Mansfield Park). Courtney, a Jane Austen fanatic, cannot believe she has been transported into a body, a setting and a story not unlike Austen's memorable novels. Not only does she have to become accustomed to corsets, shapeless high-waist gowns, uncomfortable transportation, body odor and scarce baths, but she has to make sense of everything that goes on around her. She also has no idea what to make out of Mr. Edgeworth, Jane's most dashing suitor. Is he as besotted with her and charming as he seems, or is he nothing but a two-timing loser in a cravat?
The most interesting part about this novel is that it begins with Courtney waking up in Jane Mansfield's body. There is no ceremonial- or paranormal-like transporting thing going on like in most time-travel novels. I found that very refreshing. Another interesting thing is that Laurie Viera Rigler seems to be a big Jane Austen connoisseur. She doesn't presume to interpret Austen's work in her way; she simply goes with the flow and creates storylines and situations that resonate with Austen's stories and characters -- social commentary included. I like the parallels between Austen's views and Courtney's modern-day musings, proving that Austen was indeed a woman before her time. In short, this novel is well-researched. The author brings up the differences in customs, wardrobe and expressions without overdoing it. You won't get a history lesson here, but the author does take her time bringing the time period to life. I would have liked to see more of Courtney's world though. It appears that a sequel is in the works, and I hope that Rigler plans to cover more of that. Some things are unclear, but I won't discuss them here, for they are spoilers, and I'd like to get some answers regarding those loose ends in a future installment. There is one scene that puzzles me and it's the one with Mr. Every. Why on earth would a "gentleman" lure a well-bred lady to a private place and seduce her? Is he stupid? Would any man of rank risk ruining someone that way and in turn end up with a marriage he would not want? What a strange scene! There is also a scene in which Jane/Courtney discusses Jane Austen with another woman. Women were demure in those times, and they did not engage in "intelligent" conversations in such an outspoken way, especially in the presence of men. I found that scene to be kind of unbelievable. Anyway, I do like the somewhat vague diary entry at the end though. It makes you wonder who really wrote it. Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict is a fun, entertaining, intelligent and at times thought provoking read. I couldn't put it down. I gotta say that using Jane Austen for this story was not a bad idea at all.