by John | 2/15/2014
" Courtney Stone, a modern-day LA girl and addict of the Austen novels, in the midst of yet another binge following the collapse of her engagement, is suddenly -- at least mentally -- hurled back in time and into the body of Regency spinster Jane Mansfield (geddit?). She soon finds that she's living amid both the best and the worst of the era from which the novels she so adores were born. Is rich youngish widower Charles Edgeworth, whom her bitch mother wants her to marry, really the delight he seems or in fact a heartless seducer who will wed Jane and then oppress her vilely while bedding any passing miss who takes his fancy? Can Charles's sister Mary really be as ingenuous and sweet-natured as she seems? Did Jane, before the "arrival" of Courtney's personality to replace her own, bed or not bed the servant James with whom she obviously had some kind of romantic dalliance on the rebound from an earlier disillusion with Charles? Will Courtney ever be able to return to her 21st-century existence? Has Courtney always really loved Wes, whom she's thought of as merely her best friend? Is Jane's mind inhabiting Courtney's life in the 21st century even as Courtney's life is inhabiting Jane's in the early 19th? Why is Jane's artist father producing Cubist paintings over a century before the style will be invented?
This last two questions never get answered, and nor, really, does the very vital one of how it came about that Courtney's mind made the transition through time from one body to the other, from one life to the other. It does emerge that at some stage not long ago Jane visited a fairground fortune-teller and expressed the wish that she could live someone else's life rather than her own; soon after this she fell off her horse and lay unconscious for a while until awakening with Courtney in occupation. This doesn't seem more than a mumbo-jumbo explanation, as if the author ducked the challenge; when Courtney/Jane encounters the fortune-teller again, there's no elucidation, just further mumbo jumbo along Wisdom of Yoda lines . . . or perhaps along Sarah Palin lines:
Your problem is your mind [says the fortune-teller:], which, as I said before, does entirely too much thinking. You know, it is a little known fact that thinking is entirely overrated. The world would be a much better place if we all did a lot less of it.
Much more interesting than this supposedly meaningful anti-intellectualism is Rigler's rationale for how Courtney can experience occasional fleeting memories of events in Jane's life before the mental transition occurred:
My mind, my very identity, is tied up in all the memories of the life I called my own, my life as Courtney Stone. Yet that bundle of memories, that thing I call my self, is residing in Jane's body. And that body has a physical brain of its own. And that brain has memories imprinted on it -- visual, experiential, sensory memories. Perhaps the more I become used to living in Jane's body and using her brain, the more I am starting to access her memories.
I wish there'd been lots more of this sort of thought-provoking stuff in Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict rather than what came to seem, at least to me, interminable gigglish scenes in which Courtney comes close to giving herself away or being thought mad as she voices liberated 21st-century attitudes into a Jane Austen world, or in which she speculates what might might happen here if she simply banged whichever hunky male has this time caught her fancy rather than merely flirting with him. In this context, the primary frustration is when Courtney/Jane actually runs into Jane Austen (who was publishing her novels anonymously) and, rather than having a conversation with her that might, say, expand our understanding of the background to the novels, blows the encounter by fangirlishly babbling about the movie adaptations -- references which, of course, mean absolutely nothing to Austen. If the scene were funny this might be an excuse for wasting the opportunity; as it is, this seems like just yet another ducked challenge.
All in all, the book's moderately entertaining, in the sense that I did actually get to the end of it. But its lack of ambition, its inability to convey (at least to me) any sense of place and the fact that its central situation doesn't seem properly thought through -- all these meant I found it difficult to think of this as anything more than a bit of moderately well written fluff. "