Monday, October 05, 2009

Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo

rating: ***

publisher: Guideposts

Single? Thwarted in love? Start holding Jane Austen responsible. Beth Pattillo’s formidable foray into the Austen spin-off genre, Jane Austen Ruined My Life, is a clever, erudite and unexpected addition to the throngs of Austenesque fiction post Bridget Jones and Colin Firth in wet-shirt scene.

Emma Grant has been forced out of her tenured position as a leading professor/Jane Austen scholar in shame. The icing on the cake, she caught her professor husband in a compromising manner with his TA and they weren’t just reading Northrop Frye.

With no clue what to do, Emma leaves for England and finds romance and intrigue in the guise of a strange old bird (pun intended) Mrs. Parrot and her link to the some three hundred-odd missing Austen letters believed to have been destroyed by Cassandra (Jane’s sister) after the scribe’s death.

I loved this book. In fact, since the brilliantly light Austenland by Shannon Hale, it is the best of the sub-genre.

A literary maze and treasure hunt, I was reconnected with numerous Austen facts I had let slip since my days in University. Moreover, like my recent read (read review here ) the Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte, it drew me back to an author I have distanced myself from for awhile.

The romantic leads are, of course, dashing: from the Knightley-Darcy hybrid ( the infinitely patient Adam ) to Barry ( the Wickham esque enigma who shows up at the most inopportune times).

But unlike the formulaic points A--->C chicklit, Emma’s journey and connection with Austen does more for her severing herself with a tainted identity and reclaiming her individuality, sans Jane Austen idealism, than tying a happy knot with a prospective suitor.

A favourite scene had Emma pawning her wedding and engagement rings to buy a beautiful Chanel with which to dazzle her date at a production of Brinsley Sheridan’s the Rivals: during the performance, while wedged between two rather eligible men who have strained her emotional attachment, the play’s subject becomes deliciously ironic and somewhat foreshadowing. Well-played Pattillo!

A brainy, original and fully unique Austen-lit, I loved it: A breath of fresh air.

Previously, my acquaintance with Beth Pattillo had been in the Christian sphere (the equally snarky and peppy adventures of a female minister in Betsy Blessing and her foray into knitlit: The Sweetgum Society). Here, God stands in the background, guiding and present yet not mentioned or over-bearing. Emma’s father ( like Jane’s ) is a minister.

In fact, were a reader to be new to Pattillo and not initiated with her background, the subtle Christian ( erm, rather moral) lacings of the book would possibly remain undetected.

Two major thumbs up.

FYI: Pattillo is writing another in the same vein called Mr Darcy Broke My Heart.

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