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Monday, March 11, 2013
The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen by Syrie James
The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen by Syrie James Copyright 2012 Berkley (an imprint of Penguin) - historical/contemporary fiction 422 pp. including Reader's Guide The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen is the story of Samantha McDonough, who discovers a letter written by Jane Austen tucked into a book. This letter hints at the existence of a previously-unknown Austen manuscript. The letter and a little investigation lead Samantha to a shabby estate called Greenbriar in Devonshire, where she meets the very handsome Anthony Whitaker, owner of the crumbling estate. Anthony is preparing to sell Greenbriar. It's a wreck; he's really never lived there long enough to become attached to the place, his father was an icky old man who didn't have anything to do with him and Anthony just wants to dispose of it quickly. Clearly, Samantha needs to convince him to hang on long enough for her to dig in the house to find the manuscript that she believes was left or stolen at Greenbriar. Not exactly a challenging conflict. Man who wants to get rid of house immediately shoos away Austen scholar with a burning desire to dig around in his shabby mansion. They have to find that manuscript or the book is rather pointless, right? Anthony is, of course, quickly convinced that he should allow Samantha to hunt for the manuscript after letting her in long enough to locate a guest registry that lists the Austens as visitors. He is motivated by money; she only cares about the joy of adding to the Austen canon. It doesn't take long for the two to find the missing manuscript. And, when located, they begin to read the manuscript. At this point, the tone of the book changes as it becomes a "book within a book". I didn't find the Austen manuscript particularly convincing (nor the letter, for that matter). But, the Regency-era manuscript slowly grew on me as its plot began to sound typically Austenish. At that point, I shut off my annoying editor brain and simply enjoyed the story. The "missing manuscript" might have contained some modern expressions and Americanisms but, in the end, the Regency portion of The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen was tremendously entertaining. Eventually, I found the modern portion of The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen so dull that it was irritating when the modern story interrupted. The Regency story is about a rector's daughter, Rebecca Stanhope, who finds that friends are not always what they seem. There is the usual hero with a secret agenda and the surprising true love, etc. - definitely a story built with a bit of Austen formula. The modern portion of The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, unfortunately, was too predictable, too pat, far too easy for the heroine. Discovering a letter and locating a manuscript within 2 days? And . . . well, I won't spoil the ending but it also lacks decent obstacles. The only conflict was so obviously manufactured that I would not have managed to finish the book if the modern portion had not taken a backseat to the historical. Fortunately, the modern story becomes the lesser portion of the book as Samantha and Anthony read the discovered manuscript and, in the end, I really enjoyed The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen. The modern ending was predictable and trite, but I pretty much didn't care, by that point. I'd already had too much fun and would have happily closed the book without a wrap-up of the crappy modern portion. I gave The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen 4 out of 5 stars at Goodreads. The modern portion would get no more than a 2/5 if I were to rate it on its own and if I'd taken off points for style I would have given it a lower overall score, but entertain me and I'm happy. Recommended particularly to fans of Jane Austen who enjoy reading spin-off novels and readers who love Regency novels, in general. A delightful Regency tale is what makes the book entertaining. The ridiculously predictable modern story's ending is okay, if only because it doesn't deviate from the expected. In other news: No malarkey, today. I'm just recovering from a 4-day migraine. If I have time and energy, I'll write a Tuesday Twaddle post, tomorrow. If not, I'll just dive right into more reviews when I can. Here's a cardinal to appease you. Obviously, I mucked around with this one a bit, using the "posterize" feature from Picasa and altering the color a bit at pixlr.com. Photo editors are like the grown-up version of play-doh -- so much fun to mess with.