Monday, December 15, 2014

Another Austen-Related Novel: "First Impressions," by Charlie Lovett

A Jane Austen “fan” such as myself is always tempted by books that somehow connect to her fiction, even though we have often been disappointed. I have written here before about the prequels, sequels, backstories, mysteries, etc. that either feature Austen herself in some fanciful setting, or extend the stories and characters in her novels. Some are very enjoyable, but many are poorly written. “First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen” (Viking, 2014), by Charlie Lovett, is definitely one of the better Austen-related fictions I have read. Its chapters alternate between a story about Austen’s (fictional) friendship with an elderly clergyman, and a present day story about a young booklover, Sophie Collingwood, who especially loves Austen’s work. When Sophie is working in an antiquarian bookstore, she gets involved in a mystery about an old manuscript related to Austen’s writing. The title “First Impressions” refers to the original title of “Pride and Prejudice,” but it also has implications for the modern day story, which reflects some elements of the plot of Austen’s best known novel. Both stories are brisk and well written, and fairly quickly come together. There is genuine suspense, along with literary gossip, romance and sex (in the present day story), and the characters are quite well drawn. This “First Impressions” is no masterpiece, but it is a brisk, enjoyable read, with some clever connections made and some decent writing.
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