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Tuesday, March 29

My Jane Austen Summer: A Season in Mansfield Park, by Cindy Jones: A Review

First Impressions, as Jane Austen so famously wrote about, are characterized by lingering mental coat-tails. The first impression of a first book by a new author is all important. Cindy Jones’s cover of My Jane Austen Summer: A Season in Mansfield Park, is dreamy and girly. If I had been her when I first saw the book’s mock up, I would have been thrilled.

Like the cover, Cindy’s writing style is quite refreshing and as pleasant as a strawberry daiquiri on a hot afternoon, and I eagerly settled in to read the book. But my first impression of her heroine, Lily Berry, is that of a clinging woman who, instead of accepting that her boyfriend has moved on, stalks him. Perhaps “stalk” is too strong a word, but what would you call a woman who drives past her former boyfriend’s house repeatedly to spy on him and his new girl?

Lily perhaps had an excuse. After her mother's death, her father replaced his wife with another woman with undue swiftness. Lily turns to her favorite author, Jane Austen, for solace, which gets her into hot water at work, for she is found reading on the job. In short order, she has lost her mother, boyfriend, and job, and so she takes advantage of an opportunity presented to her and travels to England to join a summer-long literary festival that features an acting troupe performing Mansfield Park.

Lily is on what I call a fast-track maturation arc, in which she will eventually discover that the secrets to happiness and inner peace lie in her own self-confidence and self-worth. Her constant  companion is “my Jane Austen”, a quite unique character who pops up as the voice of Jane Austen at necessary times to give Lily some sensible advice.

There are a number of other particulars in this story that I liked. Lily and her sister Karen email each other back and forth, and these modern epistolary touches, an homage to Regency letter writing, are sprinkled throughout the book, providing a secondary plot (one that interested me more than the main story). I also found the idea of actors creating off-the-cuff Mansfield Park scenarios throughout the season intriguing, and the novel's minor characters are well drawn.

But because of my negative first impression of Lily, I never warmed up to her, and thus her Mansfield Park adventure and romantic dalliances did not engage me as much as I would have liked. When I was introduced to Lily’s roommate – the irresponsible and self-centered Bets, for whom I cared not one whit – I was unable to empathize with Lily’s dilemma of wanting her mother's “borrowed” necklace returned. For, had I been in her situation, I would have ripped that necklace off Bets's neck and not been left in a position of weakness, repeatedly asking for something that was rightfully mine. Be that as it may, Lily does grow up in the end, which is all I will reveal about the book's denouement.

I am aware that other readers might have different first impressions of Lily (some reviewers have compared her to Bridget Jones), and that they will enter into the spirit of this novel as the author intended. That Ms. Jones can write is undeniable. I give My Jane Austen Summer: A Season in Mansfield Park 2 out of 3 Regency fans.

Austenprose is holding a My Jane Austen Summer book giveaway! Always such joy.


Mystica said...

Thanks for this review.

Felicia said...

I look forward to reading this!

Amy L said...

Way off topic, but PBS (Facebook page) is having a vote between Mr. Darcy and Rochester...not that Darcy needs help (he is stomping the competition!) but if you haven't had a chance to vote, you have until 5 or 6 tonight.