I suppose that at some point, I will have to post about a book that I didn’t enjoy, but I’ve been really fortunate to read a lot of good stuff lately. Although there are a couple of things that kept this book from being a 5-star perfect read for me, this is most definitely a review that will be filled with effusive praise and probably some mild spoilers. Consider yourself warned.
The premise: two researchers travel in time from sometime in our future all the way back to 1815. Their mission is to meet, befriend, and steal from Jane Austen herself… more specifically, to steal Jane’s personal letters and the full manuscript of The Watsons. Rachel (our narrator) is an American doctor who has traveled the world in her own time helping with humanitarian relief after disasters, and her colleague Liam is a scholar with a background in acting. In Austen’s time, they pose as a doctor and his spinster sister, just arrived in England after selling their plantation in Jamaica, and are able to insinuate themselves into the social circle of the Austens to get close to Jane herself.
I loved Rachel as a character and seeing the story through her eyes. She’s smart, witty, and independent. Her struggles in adapting her modern (actually, futuristic) thinking to life as a 19th century woman seem very real and affecting, and her developing friendship with Jane Austen and changing relationship with Liam make for fantastic reading. Rachel experiences a lot of personal growth herself over her year in Austen’s time, and I found her surprisingly easy to relate to. And not just for lines like this:
‘Is it possible that I never met the right man because he died centuries before I was born?’
Although, if I’m honest, that line could probably define me. 😆
One of my favorite components of this novel was Rachel and Liam contending with their need to complete their mission without disrupting or changing history (and their own future), while also getting to know Jane Austen as a person and wishing to find a way to prevent her early death. The Austens, mainly Henry and especially Jane, are well-drawn and complete characters themselves. I’m an unashamed Janeite, and I went from being starstruck at her appearance in the novel to enjoying her character as much as Rachel’s.
The writing is solid, although there were some word/phrase choices that stuck out a little (reference to Liam’s penis as a ‘johnson’ being the first that comes to mind – ugh)*. The ending felt a bit rushed, and some of Rachel’s defining characteristics seems to escape her all of the sudden, but I still liked the way the story closed. But, as long as we are fictionalizing dear Jane and giving her a longer, more prolific life, would it have been too much to ask to get to hear her thoughts on the Brontës? I guess I should probably write my own book, huh?
In all seriousness, I very much look forward to more books by this author. Flynn has clearly researched life in the Regency period in England, as well as the Austens themselves, which gives the novel a realistic, historically accurate feeling. The time travel elements are not explained in too much detail, but that’s just fine with me. I came for the historical fiction aspect and for Jane, not for the science-fiction piece, and I was not disappointed. I loved the references to Austen’s novels, and like most Austen fans, I would love to be able to read more of her genius writing. That’s the true fantasy element here.
*Apologies for my first ever use of ‘penis’ in the blog. And now the second ever. But I feel this needed to be said.