The first time I read Jane Austen, I was in the seventh grade. Ever since, I have been eager to read her works as well as those they inspired (except Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, that was a little too weird for me). So, as with many of the first books reviewed in this blog, I picked up The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James some time ago, but only now completed it.
Anyone who is familiar with Jane Austen probably noticed that she essentially wrote chick-flicks before they were cool–boy meets girl, there’s some drama, girl eventually realizes she loves boy and it all ends happily in the end. This is a novel (don’t let the title trick you) in which the authoress herself is thrust into her own classic story arc, but with a few twists and not necessarily the same type of happy ending many of her characters received. Moreover, reading this book is fun because if you have read (or even seen) any Jane Austen, you will likely be able to identify scenes and characters reflected in Austen’s actual work.
I felt an instant connection to James’ depiction of Austen, as a young wanna-be authoress who is slightly insecure about her work. It is clear that James took great care in crafting Austen into a relatable character, not unlike Austen’s own Miss Bennett or Miss Woodhouse. Additionally, it’s clear too that James took care to ensure that while these memoirs are works of fiction, they are based upon fact. The fact that James went so far as to include “editor’s notes” was a unique touch–it made it seem almost as though the memoirs are, in fact real, which is a clever, albeit slightly deceptive literary hack. I’ll admit that a few chapters in, I couldn’t help but flip to the back of the book for the Q&A/Author’s Note section at the back of the book, which was insightful and nearly as interesting as the memoir itself.
Furthermore, since little is known about her personal, romantic life–Austen never married, but was engaged for one night–it is refreshing to hear a version of her life where she gets a little of the happiness her characters receive, even if only for a short time. However, almost just as satisfying to read about is her own journey of self development. Reading about her life in the form of a memoir, albeit a fictional one, gives about as much information as her Wiki page, but with a more personal touch. I loved reading her interactions with the other people in her life like Cassandra and the romantic Mr. Ashford–they made Jane herself seem more humanized.
I will admit that the first half of the book was a little slow; and if one does not care for the slightly antiquated lexicon of Edwardian England, this book may not be one’s first choice. However, if you can get past reading lots of sentences like that, you’ll probably enjoy it a lot!
My only other critique of the novel comes from the chronological structure of the book itself. It is somewhat unclear when exactly life events take place, and there are a few times in which the first person narrative breaks to refer to a past event. Rarely are specific dates or ages addressed, which are the only times where the timeline is explicit. Then again, this method of storytelling is not unlike natural verbal storytelling, so I wasn’t too bothered by this structure.
Overall, I loved this book and definitely wish I would have read it sooner! Next time, I’ll post my thoughts on Gatsby’s Girl by Caroline Preston. As always, please feel free to recommend other books for me to check out!