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Mostly Fiction Book Reviews
(Reviewed by Lori Lamothe OCT 7, 2008)
Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler
Before I begin this review I have a confession of my own to make: not only am I a fan of Austen, but I am also a devotee of the recent spate of Austen spinoff novels that have become so popular. I will even admit to watching with great enthusiasm several of the Austenesque movies that have come out over the past few years: The Jane Austen Book Club, the PBS series that features six of Austen’s novels, and of course the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice (which can’t help but please you, even if you never intend to read a single word about Darcy and Elizabeth). So it was with great expectations that I began the first chapter of Laurie Viera Rigler’s Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict—and I am happy to report, dear reader, that my expectations were richly rewarded.
When Courtney Stone wakes up in Regency England after a night spent rereading Pride and Prejudice she is convinced she’s caught in some bizarre variation on a lucid dream. Not only is she in stuck in 1813, but a look in mirror reveals that she is trapped in someone else’s body as well. Unable to return to 21st-century L.A., Courtney must attempt to pass herself off as Jane Mansfield, the 30-year-old woman whose life she now inhabits. For years, Courtney has been a first-class Austen fan, a closet member of the Jane Austen Society of North America who has read her favorite author’s novels so many times she can recite their lines by heart: “Men might come and go, but Jane Austen was always there.”
But Courtney, aka Jane, soon learns that the world of her fantasies is quite different from the reality—and that Jane Austen’s prose isn’t necessarily going to help her survive. Regency England is smellier, less sanitary and far less romantic than Courtney had ever imagined. Perhaps even worse, women’s only “career option” is to marry well, and marriage in 1813 is an institution that offers little more joy than life imprisonment. Life as a single woman is no better. Even the slightest misstep can result in disaster: simply brushing one’s hand against a man’s cheek in a public place is considered scandalous behavior. After Courtney nearly demolishes her reputation by meeting a former servant in a park, she laments her fate. “I am in a thoroughly disgusting, absolutely hypocritical society,” she thinks to herself.
On the other hand, Courtney has mixed feelings about returning to the life she left behind in L.A. Though she misses her friends, her music, her Absolut and her books, she most certainly does not miss the heartache of being a jilted single woman. Shortly before she wakes up as Jane, Courtney had discovered her husband-to-be embracing their wedding cake designer. To make matters worse, her best male friend Wes had agreed to provide an alibi for the groom. As she navigates the perils of life as Jane Mansfield, Courtney wonders whether her counterpart has been thrust into an equally hostile world: a thin-walled apartment, a difficult boss and a no-good ex-fiance. Unfortunately she cannot devote much time to pondering this question; she is far too busy trying to survive in her own hostile world, complete with filthy inns, leeches and conniving redheads. But as is true of Austen’s novels, romance triumphs in the end. Love overcomes all obstacles, even those as seemingly insurmountable as time travel, vicious gossip and seductive men without condoms.
Though I am not a fan of the phrase “delightful novel,” Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict is exactly that. Ms. Rigler’s first book is filled with humorous observations and amusing characters, including the amorous Mr. Edgeworth, his fashionable cousin and Jane’s parents. Jane’s father, Mr. M, is a lovable fellow with a penchant for abstract painting and her mother, the venerable Mrs. M, bears a striking resemblance to the matrimony-minded Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. There is even a cameo appearance by Jane Austen, which makes this satisfying novel even more satisfying. The plot is expertly rendered and the voice of the transported heroine is especially well done. In fact, the only “flaw” that troubled me was that the fate of Courtney’s counterpart is never revealed. But a quick look at Ms. Rigler’s website reassured me on that point: a sequel that chronicles the experiences of the “real” Jane Mansfield is due out next summer.