What an unexpected pleasure this book turned out to be. Why unexpected? Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE Jane Austen, but I do not love Jane Austen because of her romantic stories; I love Jane Austen because of her satiric wit and ability to give us a bird’s-eye view of small village life in Regency England. There are many, however who read Jane Austen for the romantic tales she weaves. They know the characters have found their perfect soul mate and in the end they both will “live happily ever after.” The cover of this book led me to believe that this narrative would follow that plotline, but while the protagonist of this clever, easy-to-read story did hold those views, the book is really so much more than that.
Emma Grant is an English professor at a prestigious American University who is just recently divorced from Edward, her more famous college professor husband. Emma’s expertise happens to be in the area of Jane Austen, while her husband is world-renown for his study of Milton (in fact, Emma jokes that he can recite all 12 parts of Paradise Lost for memory). Emma thought Edward was her prince charming — she thought that he was her Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley and once they married they would live happily ever after — just as Jane Austen had promised in each of her 6 novels. When Edward has an affair with Emma’s Teaching Assistant (and Emma is accused of plagiarism and must resign her teaching post) her “perfect” world collapses and she blames Jane Austen for filling her head with unreal expectations of life.
Emma is near homeless (she has the option of living with her parents, but at the age of 33 wishes to keep that option as a final resort), little money (Edward managed to keep the house and the contents), and no job. The story opens with Emma on a plane reading a “worn out copy of Pride and Prejudice” on her way to London to meet with a woman, Miss. Parrot, who claims to have in her possession ALL of Jane Austen’s original letters (it is true that Jane Austen wrote nearly 3,000 letters in her lifetime, but few remain in existence because Cassandra, Jane’s older sister, is said to have destroyed them upon the author’s death). Miss Parrot has heard of Emma’s studies in this area and has invited Emma to come meet with her. While the notion is far-fetched, and even preposterous, Emma feels that she has nothing to lose and if there is any truth to this claim, Emma would be credited with the find of the century and, she feels, re-instated into the academic community.
There is a romantic interest in the story. Emma has been invited to stay at her cousin’s townhouse, but when she arrives (jet-lagged and miserable) she discovers that her cousin has “double booked” the townhouse and Adam, Emma’s boyfriend of 10 years ago whom she dumped to marry Edward, is also in residence.. While somewhat awkward, the two are able to rekindle their friendship, and, as one might guess, a possible romance.
I don’t want to tell much more of the plot, as I feel it would give away too much of the story. Suffice it to say, this is not a piece of high-brow literature, nor is it a sappy romance novel. I think I enjoyed the book so much because it met all my requirements for a brief escape on a snowy day: quick read (I think I finished the 270 page book in about 4 hours time) – just enough romance to keep me interested (but not enough to make me gag); just enough mystery to hold my attention; and just enough academic facts thrown in to let me know the author truly researched the book, without coming across like a biography. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about all the Jane Austen sites: the church at Steventon; the assembly halls of Bath; her residence on her brother’s estate in Chawton; and then all the sites of London that Emily visits as well. It brought back fond memories of the two trips I have made to London, and left me wanting to return again and again. Is the storyline believable? Not if you really stop to think about it. But if you want to play pretend and “what if…..?” – then yes, I must admit there was a part of me that truly wished these new found letters would be published for all for all of the Janeites of the world to read.
I would like to make special notice – and to offer Beth Patillo, the author, a special thank you – there is not one single word of profanity nor one single “erotic” scene in the entire book. Such a refreshing change of pace from most modern day works of fiction!
I must admit that when I finished reading this book I immediately wanted to pick up one of Jane Austen’s original masterpieces as my next escape read. But which one? Perhaps Emma would be the perfect choice.