In honor of the month of love and romance, I decided to do a book review on an intriguing and fun historical fiction novel about one of the most beloved romance authors in classic literature entitled Jane Austin Ruined My Life. Let me start by saying that, Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo is a surprisingly fast and exciting read, and I found myself unable to put it down at times. The plot revolves around wishful thinking: WHAT IF Jane Austen’s sister Cassandra saved more of her letters than we know about? What if the missing correspondence is hidden somewhere protected from the public?
It is well known that during her life, Austen was a prolific letter-writer, and though some remain, her sister Cassandra destroyed most of them after her death in order to preserve her sister’s reputation. Or so we are led to believe. In the book, the lost letters are in the possession of a group of women known only as The Formidables – a term Jane used to describe herself and Cassandra as they entered maiden-aunt territory. They have access to Jane’s letters, and even to the first draft of pride and prejudice, and they pass the letters down to women they consider worthy of Austen’s innermost secrets.
Enter American college professor Emma Grant. Emma always does the right thing and expects the same from others. She acquired her expectations from her minister father and her favorite author Jane Austen, who both taught her to believe in the happily-ever-after. Life was turning out as planed until it unexpectedly gets turned upside down by a series of unfortunate events and discoveries that lead to scandal and heartbreak. Emma is now at a turning point in her life. She had always believed in the possibility of finding her Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley and settling down to marital bliss. How could Jane Austen have ruined her life and led her so astray?
Emma decides to pack up her things and sets off to London on the invitation of an elderly woman Mrs. Parrot who claims to have a stash of undocumented letters written by Jane Austen. If this woman’s claims are true, they might be the famous missing letters that Jane Austen’s sister Cassandra inherited after her death in 1817 and supposedly burned deeming them to personal for public view. If authenticated, they represented the ultimate Holy Grail of Austenalia and the ticket to Emma’s academic and personal happiness. The enigmatic Mrs. Parrot is not quite ready to just hand them over to anyone, even if they have been summoned to her house. Emma must prove her worthiness to Mrs. Parrot, one of the ‘Formidables’, a secret society of devoted Janeites named after Jane’s own moniker of herself and sister Cassandra in their later years. Mrs. Parrot sends Emma on a series of Austen related tasks/tests to prove she’s up to snuff visiting Steventon, Chawton, Bath and other Austen haunts. Along the way she encounters many coincidences including a reappearance after ten years of a former boyfriend Adam and a new man Barry who just happens to pop up unexpectedly along her journey all adding to the mystery surrounding the letters and their importance.
Beth Pattillo’s latest novel reads less like a Jane Austen sequel and more like a The Da Vinci Code offspring. Consequently, it will appeal to a broader audience than most Austenesque books as it includes a bit of romance, mystery, intrigue, and European adventure. As someone who enjoys reading historical fiction and is in the process of writing historical fiction, the author did play around with Austen's life which a true Austen fan might take issue with. However, for the most part, the author succeeds on so many levels by blending accurate biographical and historical information about Jane Austen’s life and works with a contemporary adventure romance. Austen enthusiast will appreciate discovering all the Jane Austen lore and references, and romance readers will identify with the modern heroine and her adventure. Anglophiles will enjoy the added benefit of Ms. Pattillo’s past residence and many trips to England as she describes familiar haunts in London and Jane Austen travel destinations with aplomb. Overall. I would definitely recommend this book for a light-hearted, educational, witty, and romantic yet not cheesy read. I will definitely be picking up Ms. Pattillo’s next book, Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart as I am now hooked and must finish the trilogy!