Reading the description of this book made me interested in reading it. Once I actually held the book in my hands and could see how it was constructed made me even more interested in reading it. I have such admiration for Hazel Holt after finishing this very unusual novel she has written. What an imagination she has, what an innovative approach to the world Jane Austen would have lived in.
First, there should be no mistake on the part of anyone investigating this book. This is not a book about Jane Austen. Instead, this is a book of fiction where portions of letters written by Jane Austen have been inserted into letters written by our letter writer, Elinor Cowper (pronounced Cooper)to her elder sister Charlotte Cowper. The additions from the Austen letters are not notated in any way so it is possible to read this entire book without being certain which portions come directly from Jane Austen. I have never read the Austen letters, but I believe I could spot some of the insertions - in some cases because they did not fit the ongoing narrative completely smoothly.
The book is made up of letters written by Elinor to her sister Charlotte who is, naturally, away from home for the entire length of the novel. They begin as descriptions of everyday common occurrences regarding family, domestic subjects, and friends and acquaintances in the neighborhood in and around Lyme. As time passes there is a death in one of the homes nearby and this turns into a mysterious happening which becomes the focus of all those within the community.
Even though the two sisters are called by different names, the similarities to the life and novels of Jane Austen are strongly represented in this novel. After a while I actually began to see these two women as Jane and Cassandra, even though I knew better. The writing style is very, very well done to remind the reader of the Austen books but the author was able to have Elinor act in ways Jane Austen did not. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book. Even though it moved slightly slowly to begin with because of establishing the settings and characters, by the time I was halfway through the book I was constantly telling myself that I had time to read just one more letter, then just one more letter again, and then again. There are no chapter breaks in the book, instead you will simply progress from one letter on to the next letter. As a mystery this particular vehicle of the novel written in letters did not allow for quite as much investigation as I would have liked, but it is a satisfactory mystery none the less.
I highly recommend this book to all lovers of the world and life of Jane Austen. I also think it is important to read the Introduction written by Jan Fergus because she explains the insertion of various portions of the Austen letters. Now I'm ready to find and read the Jane Austen letters. I've always known that I should read the letters, this book has made me anxious to read them.