Two different takes on Jane Austen

I normally only review one book at a time. However, I’m way behind on blogging all of my books and I’ve read two fictional take-offs on Jane Austen recently, so it seems reasonable to combine them into one post.

The first book I read was Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler. Good Reads provides the following summary:

After nursing a broken engagement with Jane Austen novels and Absolut, Courtney Stone wakes up and finds herself not in her Los Angeles bedroom or even in her own body, but inside the bedchamber of a woman in Regency England. Who but an Austen addict like herself could concoct such a fantasy?

Not only is Courtney stuck in another woman’s life, she is forced to pretend she actually is that woman; and despite knowing nothing about her, she manages to fool even the most astute observer. But not even her level of Austen mania has prepared Courtney for the chamber pots and filthy coaching inns of nineteenth-century England, let alone the realities of being a single woman who must fend off suffocating chaperones, condom-less seducers, and marriages of convenience.

This looking-glass Austen world is not without its charms, however. There are journeys to Bath and London, balls in the Assembly Rooms, and the enigmatic Mr. Edgeworth, who may not be a familiar species of philanderer after all. But when Courtney’s borrowed brain serves up memories that are not her own, the ultimate identity crisis ensues. Will she ever get her real life back, and does she even want to?

I should state up front that I’m not an Austen fan. That being said, I thought this book was a lot of fun, especially the fish out of water aspects of having a 21st century woman suddenly thrust into an eighteenth century world . I didn’t find it particularly incongruous that Courtney would be surprised about the living conditions and social status of women in Jane Austen’s time. It’s one thing to read about such things and another thing entirely to live through them with the knowledge that it doesn’t have to be this way.

The second book was Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford. Good Reads says:

Two hundred years after her death, Jane Austen is still surrounded by the literature she loves — but now it’s because she’s the owner of Flyleaf Books in a sleepy college town in Upstate New York. Every day she watches her novels fly off the shelves — along with dozens of unauthorized sequels, spin-offs, and adaptations. Jane may be undead, but her books have taken on a life of their own.

To make matters worse, the manuscript she finished just before being turned into a vampire has been rejected by publishers — 116 times. Jane longs to let the world know who she is, but when a sudden twist of fate thrusts her back into the spotlight, she must hide her real identity — and fend off a dark man from her past while juggling two modern suitors. Will the inimitable Jane Austen be able to keep her cool in this comedy of manners, or will she show everyone what a woman with a sharp wit and an even sharper set of fangs can do?

The recent publishing trend, no doubt inspired by Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, is to make famous historical figures vampires, demons, or demon hunters. I’ve seen a lot of these books lately and have even purchased a couple (most notably Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which is still on my To Be Read shelf). I have to say that this book was a pleasant surprise. There was enough humor to keep me interested, although some of the plot twists were a little obvious. I thought the author did a pretty good job of getting inside Jane Austen’s head and making it believable (or as believable as it needed to be, considering the subject). I really loved Lucy, Jane’s cohort at the bookstore. I also liked the Bronte/Austen feud that develops about halfway through the book.

I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, Jane Goes Batty, which is scheduled for publication in February 2011. It also almost made me want to go back and read Pride and Prejudice again to see if maybe I missed something when I read it the first time.

If I had to choose one of these to read again, it would be Jane Bites Back. The supporting characters were strong and I found the twist of Jane Austen living in the 21st century as a vampire more original than a 21st century woman being trapped in a Jane Austenesque past.


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