I’m lucky enough to be part of a book club with some avid Janeites. Between Austen books we read Austen-inspired novels. I’ve read lots of retellings of Austen’s life, always somehow searching for a lost husband/lover figure, so I wasn’t looking forward to another novel about the “real” life of my dear Jane.
Luckily, I was very wrong about “First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love and Jane Austen” by Charlie Lovett. I actually ended up reading this twice in a row because it was absolutely delightful.
Sophie is a book-lover we can all relate to (except for her well-off family, job at an antique bookstore and convenient home in London). After meeting a snarky American her plain-Jane life suddenly takes a turn. Family drama abounds as Sophie desperately tries to rebuild a collection of books close to her heart, but along the way she stumbles upon a story involving Miss Austen. The clues are vague, but if they seem to be pointing to a scandal that would rock the foundation of English literature. Sophie must rush to use her bibliophile-knowledge to crack the case before someone else does, but finding a true ally proves more difficult than she thought.
Yes, you’ll have to suspend some disbelief, and ignore some crucial historical facts, but it’s worth it to lose yourself in this story.
I adored that the majority of the relationships in this story weren’t based purely on romantic love. Sophie’s relationship with her uncle is love, but it’s familial, and is a stark contrast to her more distanced relationship with her parents. Yes, there’s a drop of romance, but it’s really not a major part of the story.
The parts of the story revolving around Jane Austen are also delightful. I’m typically not a fan of any attempts to retell her life’s story, but this story is acceptably lovely. Like our protagonist, Jane’s story revolves around love that isn’t romantic. She finds a like-minded man that she can look to for guidance in her work, but the real mystery is how far that guidance went in her work. Could someone else have penned “Pride and Prejudice”? You have to read the novel to find out.
Who should read this: Did you adore the twists in “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”? You’ll love this.
What you should drink with it: Sierra Nevada’s aged Narwhal. It’s richly complex, but somehow chocolatey, just like this story.