Is it a truth universally acknowledged that a woman of forty, with nothing left to lose, could commit random acts of desperation against her normal sensibilities? Meet Kate, the heroine of Kim Izzo’s debut novel, who is considering marriage for money and is charged to write a feature magazine article on just that:
“Let me get this straight. I’m to write about finding a rich husband, at forty, as a guide for women, as though nothing’s changed since Pride and Prejudice was published?” (28)
In The Jane Austen Marriage Manual, Kate Shaw is savvy, stylish, and seductively attractive at forty. She has everything going for her, but wait….In short order, she loses her glam job at a fashion magazine, her life savings to an unscrupulous ex-boyfriend, her beloved grandmother to cancer, and her home to her pathetic mother’s gambling addiction.
To cheer her up on her fortieth birthday, her best friends buy her a gag gift of a square foot of land on a noble Scottish estate and a trumped-up title to go with it: Lady Katherine Billington Shaw. Kate’s magazine editor and close friend Marianne asks her to write an exit feature on how to land a rich husband. Thus, the idea Kate perpetrates with her phony title and article assignment becomes her foot in the door.
Kate’s quest begins in London where she reunites with her dear English friend Emma and husband Clive. At a night club, Kate is introduced to romantic interest #1, Griffith Saunderson, the manager of an upscale bed and breakfast. A handsome Englishman, Griff is thoroughly ridiculed by a drunken Kate. Little does she know yet that Griff gets even by turning up throughout Kate’s adventures and turning her on at the most awkward moments.
Next stop is a posh Palm Beach resort where she meets Fawn Chamberlain, a ditzy former beauty queen, who is filthy rich by way of two ex-husbands. Fawn gushes over who she thinks is titled nobility in “Lady Kate” and tutors her on the “in-crowd.” At a polo match she meets romantic interest #2, dashing billionaire financier Scott Madewell.
Then Kate’s off to glitzy St. Moritz where she encounters romantic interest #3, Vladimir Mihailov, a wealthy Russian developer. But who should also be there but Fawn, Scott, and Griff to stir the pot.
From there it’s back to London with the same cast of characters and the relationships between Kate and romantic interests #1 and #2 develop more serious undertones. Desperately poor at this point, she must decide between following her heart or her purse as it seems each may be equally attainable.
I found Kate to be a very un-Austen-like heroine: deceptive, profane, promiscuous, and heavy on the Pinot Grigio. However, the story triumphs largely on the author’s wicked sense of comedic timing which carries the dialogues, sight gags, and precarious romancing. The situational antics Lady Kate gets into and her mental gyrations to protect her true identity, purpose, and poverty are just rolling-in-the-aisle hilarious. Here’s Lady Kate at a polo match in Palm Beach as she endures an up-close encounter with a horse:
“I was just within reach, my heart pounding, trying to steady my hand to stroke him, when he suddenly shook his head like a wet dog, sending sweat flying everywhere, followed by a huge roaring sneeze that sounded like an elephant. I felt the spray hit my face, my chest, and arms. If you think horse sweat is bad, you haven’t seen the amount of snot that comes out of a horse’s nostrils. I couldn’t help it. I screamed and leapt backward, but instead of hitting solid ground my heel slipped in and I fell toward the moist, soft earth that wasn’t earth, but manure.” (96)
Alas, right up until the very end, I was still disconnected from naughty Kate and often had difficulty fathoming what the men saw in her at times. And, what of the outcome of romantic interest # 1 and #2? Sorry, I spoileth not!
Just because her name is in the title, does The Jane Austen Marriage Manual pass muster as Jane Austen Fan-fiction? I suppose, but I found the references to Jane Austen a bit contrived, forced, or tacked on. Still, the author’s creative wit is evident in the chapter headings which are cleverly named and are replete with appropriate Jane Austen literary quotes.
Ultimately, what does it matter since a great read is still a great read, regardless of its genre? I found Kim Izzo’s debut novel slow-starting but accelerating with dramatic intensity. Whether you’re expecting a full-pull of “Austen Prose” or not, this is a worthy adventure, full of outrageous humor, endearing relationships, and breathless romantic suspense.
3 out of 5 Stars
The Jane Austen Marriage Manual, by Kim Izzo
St. Martin’s Press (2012)
Trade paperback (336) pages
Cover image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press © 2012; text Jeffrey Ward © 2012, Austenprose.com