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Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo – seeing Austen as you’ve (probably) never seen her before

After Jane Austen’s death, nearly three thousand of her letters were supposedly destroyed, taking with them the secrets of Jane’s life. But what did they hide? Austen scholar Emma Grant has always lived by the rules – she is married, has a good teaching job, and plans for the requisite two children. Her ideal life is shattered when she finds her husband in bed with another woman. Her romantic notions, fuelled by Austen, are exposed as foolish dreams, leaving Emma betrayed and alone.

Accused of plagiarism, she loses her job as well as her marriage, and departs for England on a desperate quest for the missing letters of Jane Austen, hoping to restore her shattered reputation. A reclusive widow promises to show Emma the letters if she agrees to keep Jane’s secrets – and completes a series of tasks. These take Emma on a journey through Jane Austen’s England, encountering new glimpses into Jane’s life – and an old friend of her own along the way … As Emma uncovers the legendary author’s innermost thoughts and struggles, she begins to understand the reasons for her idol’s secrecy and the true meaning of loyalty.

I still have fond memories of my Jane Austen phase in my late teens, when I suddenly became very polite, courteous and charitable to all and sundry – funnily enough, my mother has fond memories of it too and often mentions it to me. So I really couldn’t resist picking up this book and seeing how the Great Woman affected someone else’s life, even if only a fictional one.

It’s certainly an off-beat book, and Beth Pattillo has done a great job in creating Emma Grant, an off-beat kind of a woman, though strangely charming in her fashion. I took me a good few pages to succumb to her wiles fully and in places, especially at the start, the story is very slow, but somehow in the end you can’t help liking her.

The plot of course is several sandwiches short of a posh picnic outing, but really who cares? I grew very fond of Mrs Parrot, the mad woman with the Jane Austen letters, and the strange series of tasks she sets Emma (and how could she be called anything else?…) in order to see if she’s worthy of becoming one of their secret society of Formidables (women – and possibly men – who are responsible for keeping Austen’s missing letters and her romantic secrets well and truly hidden). Really I longed to be a Formidable myself – I think I’m ideally suited and hope that the redoubtable Mrs Parrot might consider my application one day.

What mattered in the midst of all this magical and more than surreal fantasy was the lovely whistle-stop tour we get through Austen’s life as Emma travels the length and breadth of the southern counties in order to pursue her heroine. I learnt a lot and enjoyed the journey too. Not only that but, echoing the plots of Austen’s books, Emma has her own romantic heroes to choose from. Adam is her old college friend and the big love interest in her life, but there’s also the out-of-the-blue meeting with Barry (which might not be as unexpected as Emma believes …) which soon becomes something more than the sum of its parts. And even her faithless husband isn’t entirely silent. I loved the twists and turns of the plot and the great set pieces, such as Emma and Adam dancing together in the deserted Ball Room in Bath. Magical indeed. Though, that said, I did tend to find I was one or two steps ahead of Emma in working out what was actually going on in terms of her menfolk and their links with the world of Mrs Parrot. Say no more …

Throughout the book, Emma grows and develops too, as she comes to learn more about Austen, and how their romantic lives have somehow become mirrored across the distance of many years. Most importantly however, Emma also learns much about herself.

Finally, I must say how stonkingly good the ending to this novel is. It took me out of the strict rules of the romantic fiction genre and landed me somewhere entirely different and exciting, and I loved it. A great ending expertly done, and it really made me think. What could be better?

Oh, and the cover picture is fabulous. Emma and I are both so very much that woman …

Jane Austen Ruined My Life, Monarch Books 2009, ISBN 978 0857 2101 04
Also available as an ebook

[So far Anne has only written one Jane Austen-inspired novel, The Hit List, but wonders if she might have some more in her one day]

About annebrooke

Anne Brooke lives in Surrey, UK, and writes in a variety of genres, including gay erotic romance, fantasy, comedy, thrillers, biblical fiction and the occasional chicklit novel. When not writing, she spends time in the garden attempting to differentiate between flowers and weeds, and in the allotment attempting to grow vegetables. Occasionally, she can also be found in the kitchen making cakes. Every now and again, they are edible. Her websites can be found at: www.annebrooke.com, www.gayreads.co.uk, www.biblicalfiction.co.uk and www.gathandria.com (for fantasy fiction).

14 comments on “Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo – seeing Austen as you’ve (probably) never seen her before

  1. kirstyjane
    September 13, 2012

    This sounds SO MUCH FUN. Thanks, Anne, for the review — ashamed to admit I wouldn’t have looked twice at it otherwise…

  2. annebrooke
    September 13, 2012

    :) It certainly gave me much amusement, Kirsty – great fun indeed!

  3. Maria Grazia
    September 13, 2012

    I love Beth Pattillo Austen-inspired books!

  4. annebrooke
    September 13, 2012

    :) Glad to hear it, Maria – I’ll have to read more of her series! :)

  5. Hilary
    September 13, 2012

    Despite my – ahem – strictures about Jane Austen spinoffs, this one really does sound like fun! Thank you for pointing out just how much fun it might be, Anne – I too would have walked on by.

  6. annebrooke
    September 13, 2012

    Definitely fun, Hilary, and wildly surreal – give it a go! :)

  7. Jackie
    September 13, 2012

    This one does sound interesting, it has a title that pulls you in & seeing how the story plays out and the connection to Austen’s novels would be a treat for anyone who enjoys Austen’s writing. Your praise for the ending has me curious.
    I must say that’s it’s remarkable how much mileage people have gotten out of the small amount of Austen’s work, in sequels, spinoffs & such.

  8. annebrooke
    September 13, 2012

    Yes, Austen mania never dies, Jackie, that’s true! :)

  9. Kate
    September 14, 2012

    I love the sound of this, it really sounds worth reading, and I loathe chicklit normally (which is what i think this must be marketed as).

  10. annebrooke
    September 14, 2012

    Yes, I would say it falls in the chicklit category, but it’s well done, and with enough meat to make you think :) As I say, the ending is superb. xxx

  11. lynnsbooks
    September 26, 2012

    I quite like the sound of this one. Thanks for the review.
    Lynn :D

  12. annebrooke
    September 26, 2012

    My pleasure, Lynn – I hope you enjoy the read :)

  13. Pingback: Jane Austen game now on Facebook « Maria Grace

  14. Kate
    March 13, 2013

    I was given this for Christmas, have got through the first 6 pages, and HATE it. The writing is mechanical, it’s England for Americans, it’s so clunky and ‘telling’, not ‘showing’. but because I trust you, Anne, about Mrs Parrot and the ending, I will continue. Through gritted teeth.

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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