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Books and Bards
November 2, 2009
Book Review: What Would Jane Do? Prepare For a Rude Awakening
of a Jane Austen Addict
by Laurie Viera Rigler
If Jane Austen were here today, would she recoil in horror at the immorality of the modern woman, or would she let out a great whoop whoop! for our freedom from the vise-like social mores that caused her heroines such pain and conflict?
I think it's hard to say. On the one hand, her writing both satirizes and disparages many of the customs that proved so discriminatory against women of the gentry, such as property entailment, the inability to earn a living, and complete dependence upon men for their livelihood. I rather like to think of her as an independent and free-thinking woman of her time.
On the other hand, I do get the impression that propriety is something she took seriously, and that her version of women's lib only stretched so far. I think she'd have a pretty hard time with bikinis and one-night stands.
Personally, I'm guessing she'd do a little bit of both (recoil and whoop whoop!). In fact, I'm guessing she'd react pretty much how Jane Mansfield reacts to waking up in the 21st century in Laurie Viera Rigler's Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict.
In this breezy follow-up to Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, it is now Regency gentlewoman Jane's eyes through which we see as she inhabits the body of modern L.A. thirtysomething Courtney Stone. After falling from her horse and receiving a nasty bump on her head, Jane awakens to a strange room where gadgets blink and beep at her and a strange box appears to be a window onto tiny actors acting out scenes from her favorite contemporary novel, Pride and Prejudice.
While Courtney is back in 19th-century England fighting with Jane's oppressive mother and trying to catch a husband, Jane must navigate a world of mini-dresses, night clubs, speeding cars, mixed signals, crummy jobs, and pushy best friends. She's as clueless about how to get back into her own body as she is about how to use a cell phone, and L.A. slows down for no one, which means she's forced to plunge into another woman's life and try not to make a muddle of it. As she adjusts to life in the fast lane, she begins to realize the two worlds are in some ways not quite as different as she thought.
Of the two books, I imagine this must have been by far the harder to write. Not only did the author have the task of describing the modern world through the eyes of a woman who doesn't even have the lexicon to describe most of our daily conveniences, but she had to address Jane's culture shock well enough to make it believable yet not so much that it gets in the way of little things like plot and character development.
In my opinion, she pulls it off fetchingly.
Laurie Viera Rigler's strength as a writer is her ability to ply the first-person, stream-of-conscious narrative female voice. Her writing bubbles with energy and personality, and her characters draw me right in, making me want to braid their hair while we eat popcorn, watch Colin Firth movies, and become BFFs.
Of course, like any real-life BFF would, I did find myself getting a bit impatient with Jane's incredulity and frustrated with her overly pushy friends. In some places the plot seemed to stall a bit, while in others it seemed to rush ahead without giving the main character room to breathe. However, the fact that the book engaged me enough to elicit such strong reactions speaks volumes.
I was a little disappointed in the ending. It's hard to discuss why without giving anything away, but a few things left me confused, and Jane and Courtney didn't end up quite where I wanted them to. What this book did do, though, was raise some very intriguing questions about individual identity and how much of our personalities and emotions are tied to our physical bodies.
Ultimately, I enjoyed this novel, although not quite as much as I did the first. (I also enjoyed the trailer, posted below--it was created by Rigler's own personal Mr. Darcy.) As a 21st-century chick all the way, I naturally had a much easier time relating to Courtney than to Jane. Their inner struggles while dealing with the body swap, although of a similar nature, took on very different nuances. Still, watching Jane apply her own perspective to modern situations--such as working for an abusive boss--gave me a fresh way of looking at things that aren't functioning the way they should be in my own life.
Which do you think would be more difficult, mentally, emotionally, and physically: traveling back in time like Courtney, or traveling forward in time like Jane? Why?