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Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, by Laurie Viera Rigler

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict is Ms Viera Rigler’s debut novel. I suspect that having a better education on all things Austen would increase the reader’s enjoyment of this book, since the author sprinkles quotes and bits of dialogue and all sorts of references throughout. Be that as it may, though, I find it generally charming and enjoyable all the same.

The story is narrated in first person, present tense (the second one I’ve ever read using this technique, the first one being Ann Aguirre’s Grimspace). The story flows easily, aided perhaps by the structure—the chapters are extremely short.

Here’s the back cover blurb:

After nursing a broken engagement with Jane Austen novels and Absolut, Courtney Stone wakes up and finds herself not in her Los Angeles bedroom or even in her own body, but inside the bedchamber of a woman in Regency England. Who but an Austen addict like herself could concoct such a fantasy?

Not only is Courtney stuck in another woman’s life, she is forced to pretend she actually is that woman; and despite knowing nothing about her, she manages to fool even the most astute observer. But not even her level of Austen mania has prepared Courtney for the chamber pots and filthy coaching inns of nineteenth century-England, let alone the realities of being a single woman who most fend off suffocating chaperones, condomless seducers, and marriages of convenience. This looking-glass Austen world is not without its charms, however. There are journeys to Bath and London, balls in the Assembly Rooms, and the enigmatic Mr Edgeworth, who may not be a familiar species of philanderer after all. But when Courtney’s borrowed brain serves up memories that are not her own, the ultimate identity crisis ensues. Will she ever get her real life back, and does she even want to?

The basic set up is close enough to the blurb: Courtney Stone falls asleep in twenty first century LA and wakes up in the body of Jane Mansfield in 1813 in England. Cultural shock ahoy!

We are introduced in short order to the members of the Mansfield household, which include, among others, a cold and calculating mother and a father who dabbles at painting and hides from his harridan wife in his atelier. Through Courtney’s inner dialogue we are also introduced to the people in her other—present? past? parallel?—life: her friends Anna and Paula, her no-longer-best friend Wes, her cheating good for nothing ex-fiancé Frank; as well as to her family and work circumstances—which are not particularly nice, to say the least.

It is both interesting and, frankly, funny to examine the everyday details of eighteen century living through the eyes of a twenty first century working girl. From the utterly mundane—washing your face and armpits instead of a daily shower—to the intangible—endless days spent doing nothing more productive than embroidering or arranging flowers.

There are a couple of things about the novel that bothered me, such as having Courtney-as-Jane do things that, someone who has practically memorized all six Austen novels word by word, would surely know a single woman of marriageable age couldn’t—and, more to the point, wouldn’t—do during Austen’s time.

Ranting in the privacy of her thoughts against the stupidity of the societal strictures of the time? Perfectly understandable. Giving the slip to her chaperone without a thought to the attendant consequences for the person whose body she inhabits, as well as for those charged with her safety? That’s not just foolhardy and selfish, that’s TSTL behaviour.

Of course, her doing such things served a purpose in the story and moved the plot along, but I really wish that Ms Viera Rigler had found another way to do that—one that didn’t go against the character’s background she took such pains to create.

The exploration of time, space, consciousness and memory as fluid rather than fixed was very interesting to me, if also prone to give anyone trying to make sense of it a slight headache—just as it does Courtney.

All in all, though, I would have liked Courtney more if she hadn’t rather stupidly proclaimed, early in the book, that:

How much nicer it would sound if I could say, “I’m divorced. It just didn’t work out,” than, “I’m single. I’ve never been married.”

Yes, I get that she’s thirty or whatever, but I’ve been married and divorced, and please believe me when I say that it ain’t all that’s cracked up to be—there’s a lot of misery involved in having your illusions shattered.

Of course, she finally grows up and things come to a satisfactory, if slightly trite**, conclusion. For me, this was a quick, light read, nothing more or less than that. For those who did like it more, there is a sequel planned, devoted to exploring Jane’s fate in modern day Los Angeles.

6.5 out of 10.

**trite for someone who has read as many big misunderstandings solved in the last three pages of the book as I have.

You can find Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict at Amazon.com here, and at Amazon UK here.

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