Monday, July 12, 2010

Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo

274 pages
Published 2009
by Guideposts
New York, NY

I find the title and cover art for this particular edition highly amusing. It's clever, it's fitting (although the character in the story never wore a dress or lay on a bench like this), and the title is wonderfully tied to the crux of the heroine's story. Yet when I first saw this book (long before I read any reviews) I couldn't help but laugh. I imagined a twist on this book -- it is Jane Austen who is lying so forlornly on the bench and crying out "Modern fiction has ruined my books!"

It's no secret, I am not a fan of all the Austen-themed chic-lit that clutter bookstore shelves and call themselves literature. And yet.... and yet I occasionally find a rare gem amongst all the imitations. No, this is not on par with Austen's own literary works nor is it as good as some other modern works of literature, but it was by far one of the best Austen-themed novels I've read in a long time. Probably second to the likes of Austenland by Shannon Hale. (Read in 2007 before I started this blog, so sorry no review available.)

By now most of you probably know what this book is about, but for those who do not here is a quick summary. Emma Grant is a English professor who has just had her world turned upside down. She's lost not only her husband, but her career and now she's in England to take her revenge on Jane Austen. She believes that Austen, through her novels, has taught women that love and marriage comes with a "happily ever after" guarantee, but it is just a lie. What begins in the book as Emma's mission to prove this point and restore her career ends as an opportunity of a life time, a journey of self-discovery, and the chance for a new beginning. (For more in depth plot summary check out BethPattillo.com)

Jane Austen Ruined My Life was a much better read than I anticipated. I had already received rave reviews from two fellow book lovers (Carrie at Reading To Know and my friend Alison). Although they loved it I have to admit I was a little wary, especially after having just finished another Austen-themed novel that I disliked. (The irony here is that I only read the other novel because I thought I was reading the book Carrie and Alison had told me was a "must read"!)

One thing I noticed as I read Jane Austen Ruined My Life was that it wasn't a trashy romance. There's little to no language (at least that I noticed) and no intimate love scenes (excepting a few minor references made by the heroine to an affair her husband had prior to the book's beginning), still no graphic details, not vulgar conversations. It was rather refreshing to find in a piece of modern literature. While Pattillo is no Austen or Dickens, she is an entertaining writer and a breath of fresh air when it comes to chick-lit.

Jane Austen Ruined My Life is a sort of grown-up coming-of-age story, a journey of self-discovery for both Emma Grant and Jane Austen, the latter based on the author's fictional twist and interpretation of real life. I liked the quote fellow author Lori Smith made about this book: "A light and lovely fictional journey. [Pattillo] manages to strike the delicate balance of examining the clever, imaginary what-ifs of Austen's life while still respecting (and clearly revering) Austen."

Without giving away the ending (for those of you who have yet to read this book) I will say this much: the ending isn't the fictional fairy-tale "happily ever after". At first I felt a little cheated that the book didn't end as I expected, all lose ends tied up, etc. And yet, after some reflection on the book as a whole I realized that was the whole point of the book. The story couldn't end with a predicable "happily ever after" -- that would have made the story too predicable, too cliche. Life doesn't end just because the hero and heroine meet and marry. There is so much more that happens the next day after a love story begins. And even when life doesn't go as planned there is always time for a new beginning and a second chance. I believe Pattillo leaves the ending of Jane Austen Ruined My Life open to the reader for interpretation. You, the reader, get to imagine how the rest of Emma's life plays out. So, after this reflection I realized I liked that. It's different, but it is a happy ending for this book.

I've already been told I must read the next Austen-themed book by Beth Pattillo titled Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart. This book is not as might be expected, a sequel to Emma's story, but it does have some slight-connections. Because I enjoyed Jane Austen Ruined My Life I have already added this other novel to my TBR list, so watch for a review before summer's end.

3 comments:

Carrie said...

I liked the Darcy book even MORE so...yeah...must read. =)

Glad to know Alison and I didn't "force" you into anything you totally hated!

Brittanie said...

I liked both of them too.

Nathan & Alison said...

So glad you enjoyed it! Like Carrie, I think I like the Darcy book even better. Looking forward to your review of that one.