Here’s a new novel that tugged at my heartstrings and validated my belief that if the world was run according to Jane Austen, we would be much smarter and happier. Enuff said!
Fifteen-year-old Ellie Barnett is a bookish geek. She excels at academics, but according to her caustic older sister, she is digging herself into a hole of permanent unpopularity with her scraggly hair, lack of make-up, and inattention to fashion. There is, however, one boy who since kindergarten has paid her a bit more attention than she is comfortable with. Sam Blaine may be good-looking, athletic, brainy, and popular – but he is trouble – and just happens to sit behind her in English class taunting her with pokes in the back with his pencil and sexual innuendo. When she cracks open her next reading assignment, a copy of Pride and Prejudice, she begins to hear voices. Jane Austen’s British voice to be exact, interjecting observations and advice, specifically warning Ellie to beware of Sam Blaine. He is her Wickham, that charming scoundrel that wooed Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice and then eloped with her younger sister Lydia. Ellie does not doubt the advice, just the whole hearing voices thing really freaks her out. Jane Austen’s spirit has somehow inhabited her mind, commenting in her acerbic early nineteenth-century sensibility on Ellie’s 1980’s life and romances and she does not know why.
Over the course of twenty years, we follow Ellie through her life challenges as a single woman looking for love and happiness in what Jane Austen deems to be a morally confusing world. Who of us could ever forget their own first love, the painful realization that you are being used, or the first time you were dumped? As Jane offers Ellie witty and wise advice on family conflicts, career choices, and a barrage of bad boyfriends that come and go, Ellie slowly realizes that she must learn some life lessons before she can move on. For Ellie, one painful lesson was bad-boy Sam who Jane advises to stay clear of yet she is still drawn too. As their lives keep crossing paths over the course of the years, they never seem to be at the right place at the right time to work it out. Ellie trusts and values Jane’s opinion. Who better to advise her than an author who is valued for her keen judgment of human nature and romantic insights? But with Sam, she holds strong prejudices. Could she be wrong? Is he really her Wickham, or could he be her Mr. Darcy?
What an unexpected, uplifting, and urbane debut novel! To paraphrase Jane Austen’s character Lady Catherine, Marilyn Brant has given us a treasure. Granted that there are hundreds of Jane Austen inspired novels written over the years, this totally unique and original concept of Austen’s ghost inhabiting and advising a modern young woman is brilliant. The play of early nineteenth-century social mores against twentieth-century culture is so droll that I laughed-out-loud several times in total recognition. Like Austen, Brant excels at characterization offering a heroine in Ellie Barnett that I could totally identify with, and a hero in Sam that is so endearingly flawed that any woman worthy of her worn-out VHS copy of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries will be happy to swoon over. Subtly powerful and amusingly acerbic, you will be gently reproved into agreeing in the power of love to transform us all.
5 out of 5 Stars
According to Jane, by Marilyn Brant
Kensington Books (2009)
Trade paperback (352) pages
Cover image courtesy of Kensington Books © 2009; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2009; Austenprose.com