From the desk of Christina Boyd:
In such days as this, of on-line Jane Austen fan fiction, self-publishing, and perusing the stacks in traditional brick and mortar bookstores, it is incomprehensible to neglect reading the manifold of Jane Austen spin-offs, what-ifs, and other such Austen-inspired musings. Those of us Austen addicts simply cannot get enough of her—and oftentimes inhale all we can in self-indulgent reading binges—in search of that same rush, that wonderful, satisfying moment we experienced upon discovering her for the first time. We all partake in the lamentation that she left this world but a handful of completed novels. And we all share in the unreserved, unrequited, whimsical dream to discover some misplaced work from our dear Jane. However, best-selling authoress, Syrie James has done just that! She has discovered the mythical, undiscovered novel in her soon to be released novel inside her novel, The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen.
Samantha McDonough, an American librarian and Austen scholar, is on an English holiday with her cardiologist boyfriend. Well actually, he is at a medical conference and she busies herself with sightseeing and visiting the shops. She purchases a 200-year-old poetry book during her wanderings and later discovers a letter tucked inside—that leads her to believe that it is, in fact, a letter from Jane Austen… “The minute I saw the letter, I knew it was hers. There was no mistaking it: the salutation, the tiny, precise handwriting, the date, the content itself, all confirmed its ancient status and authorship…” And now for the pudding—in it, this treasure refers to a missing manuscript Austen lost while visiting a country manor in Devonshire! “Even at a distance of fourteen years, I cannot help but think of it with a pang of fondness, sorrow, and regret, as one would a lost child. Do you recall my theory as to how it came to be lost? I still maintain that it was all vanity, nonsense, and wounded pride. I should never have read it out loud to you that night during our stay but kept it safe with all the others- although we did have a good laugh!”
What Austen addict could resist such a temptation? Hence Samantha, after a phone call to her dear bookseller friend and fellow Austenite, Laurel Ann (yes! our very own Laurel Ann!!) follows the clues to said estate and meets the handsome yet frosty, Anthony Whitaker, Greenbriar’s present-day owner. After he realizes the monetary windfall such a discovery could bring him, he thaws and the two embark on a search of the mansion.
“’Let me try.’ Anthony wedged himself into the small, confined space beside me, until our faces were inches apart, and his lean muscled arm and the length of his torso were pressed against mine. My heart began pumping loudly in my ears – an effect, I told myself, that had nothing to do with his proximity but was due entirely to the excitement of the search and the anticipation of what we might find.”
It is this very cozy scene in which they discover the 340-page manuscript, a collection of 42 hand-sewn booklets! Lucky girl indeed, on all counts. Almost immediately they commence reading aloud The Stanhopes—the novel about a young woman whose clergyman father has fallen quite low under the specter of gambling parish monies. Cast out from all Rebecca Stanhope has ever known, they survive on wits and the charity of family amidst attempts to redeem her father. “Mr. Stanhope was the picture of patience and delight through these many introductions, which Rebecca, although grateful, found more overwhelming than anything. While the gentlemen talked over the politics of the day and compared the accounts of the newspapers, the women gossiped about who had said and worn what at which party.” Like Austen’s canon, these Stanhopes are very much the people she would have known (or been), encountering frienemies, scoundrels, and even a handsome hero. Meanwhile, back in her real life, Samantha finds herself in unfamiliar terrain vis-à-vis her attraction to Anthony and what he might actually do with this secret Austen cache.
Ever since I heard the author of The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte, Nocturne, Forbidden as well as a short story in Jane Austen Made Me Do It, had another novel in the works, I have been all anticipation. Syrie James luminously weaves an Austen-style plot within a charming contemporary love story. The real genius of this astonishing work is her use of Austen’s “Plan of a Novel,” the authentic notes for a book Jane Austen never wrote (that anyone knows about, of course… says this ever hopeful fangirl.) By using Austen’s notes, Syrie James brought to life a tale that true Austen romantics and proficients (ie. Austen addicts) can only daydream but might pacify that gnawing need for more Austen—until a real missing manuscript is discovered. As expected, Syrie James’ latest offering, The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen is nothing short of masterful. This is a must buy—and should catapult to the top of your Must-Read List for 2013.
5 out of 5 Regency Stars
The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, by Syrie James
Berkley Trade (2012)
Trade paperback (432) pages
Cover image courtesy of Berkley Trade © 2012; text Christina Boyd © 2012, Austenprose.com