Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen

Now that "The Education of Portia" is finished, I have a little more time for reading, gardening and sewing--and planning my next novel.

Reading is the number one priority however, and I have been doing lots of it. A book I just finished is "The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen" by Syrie James. It is a novel that offers, according to the back cover blurb, "...a delightfully possible scenario for the inspiration behind this beloved author's romantic tales."

The book is a very enjoyable read. The author has found a believable voice for Jane Austen, though not perhaps as tart as the real woman's tongue. Her lost romance, which we suspect happened but cannot be certain of, comes to life in this telling.

The author's attempts--via a fictitious editor and an 'editor's forward'--to convince us that this memoir is real and its discovery a modern miracle are rather heavy-handed. It is not necessary, in my opinion, to be convinced that the memoir is 'true' and factual to enjoy the story. Nevertheless her description of the supposed wonderful discovery and its meaning for scholarship has a certain charm.

The book would still entertain without the self-conscious intrigue and manipulation. Particularly entertaining is the author's insertion of some scenes from Austen's novels into her supposed real life. Austen supposedly then uses these actual occurrences of her life, in her novels. That's confusing, isn't it? I don't think I can explain it better, though I am a writer. You will have to read the book to understand what I mean :)

Syrie James has cultivated a convincing Regency voice, with only one error that leaped out at me--she used the word 'vest' when she meant 'waistcoat'. A classic mistake, one made by many authors in the past, and something that would go unnoticed by most North American readers.

I wish that the tale spun in the foreward was true; that we could find some mythical cache of Jane Austen documents, or those letters that Cassandra burned. It is unlikely ever to happen however, so it is pleasant to explore what Jane Austen might have done and thought during those missing years of her history. And Mr. Ashford is a hero worthy of her, which is all any woman can ask for.

Good summer reading -- let me know what you think of it!

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