Can a man write a good book about Jane Austen? Before I read First Impressions by Charlie Lovett I would have probably said, "No." I was surprised to find that I did enjoy this book nearly as much as any tales about Jane that I've read. Most Jane Austen books fall into one of three categories: stories about Jane Austen's life, continuations of her famous novels, or modern retellings of her stories. This book is unique because it is both a story about Jane's life, and a modern story, too.
Sophie Collingswood has been a bibliophile for most of her life, inspired and encouraged by her favorite uncle, Bertram. Bertram's sudden death sends Sophie into a tailspin, and her only comfort is the knowledge that he left all of his books to her. Through circumstances beyond her control, all of the books are taken from Sophie, and she is crushed. Then strange things begin to happen. She meets two very different men, and can't decide which one she likes best, and if one or both of them is lying to her. She gets a job working for an antique bookseller, and is asked by two men to find a second edition of an obscure book. Curious about the reason that two people are suddenly looking for this book, Sophie begins to do some research herself. What she finds could change history as we know it. What if Jane Austen didn't write Pride and Prejudice? Someone is claiming that she didn't, and will do anything to prove it. As we follow Sophie on her journey to find the truth, we also go back in time to Jane's life and the events that led to the writing of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Lady Susan. Even though we are seeing what is happening in both time periods, the answer is withheld until the very end.
Another aspect that really sets this book apart from other Austen-esque novels, is the mystery that surrounds it. But it's not a heavy-handed overbearing kind of mystery, but fits perfectly into the storyline. In case you aren't a Jane Austen fan, I'll tell you that the first draft of Pride and Prejudice was called First Impressions, so that's where the title for this book comes from. Since I am a very loyal Austen fan, I was more than a little annoyed as the story continued to indicate that she was a plagiarist. And while I feel that Mr. Lovett was pretty true to Jane Austen, I think she would roll over in her grave at some of the themes in this book.
This was a good read, and didn't offend my Austen sensibilities too much! I don't always like books that go back and forth in time, but it really seemed to work here, mainly due to the skills of the author, and neither story detracted from the other. And, true to the message of Jane's most famous book, this book proves again that first impressions can be misleading. However, I'm glad that mine on this book were correct and I loved it!
I was given an advance copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for my review. All opinions are my own. Look for it from your favorite bookseller on or around October 16, 2014.