Book: Jane in Love
Author: Rachel Givney
Publication Info: 2020, William Morrow
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Time Travel, Alternative History
I received an early review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for honest feedback.
Regular ol’ Jane Austen is 28 and unmarried, and that’s a big problem for a lady in 1803. All she really wants to do is write and wander around Bath, imagining her stories, but outside pressures beckon for her adherence to the social standards of the time. Rebuffed and momentarily embarrassed by matchmaking gone wrong, Jane utilizes a local’s help and finds herself transported to the year 2020. Understandably, she’s just a bit shocked, as coming to terms not only with the spell she’s under and the wonders of the future takes its toll.
Jane materializes on the set of an Austen period drama right in front of our secondary character, Sofia. Sofia is a beautiful, highly sought after film actress who is coming to terms with 1) a divorce from the director of the film she’s currently in and 2) feeling overshadowed and losing her spark. Believing Jane is an elaborate behind-the-scenes prank due to the nature of the film, so she ends up going along with Jane’s assertion of her identity and ignorance of the 21st century. During the course of events, Jane meets Fred, Sofia’s brother, who she has conflicting feelings for. As Jane starts to realize she’s famous in the future, she has to make some tough decisions about what she wants from life.
I am going to approach this review in two ways. First, I will approach as a die-hard Jane Austen fan. The second approach will be taking the book at face value, as if I could replace “Jane Austen” with “Mary Smith” and the storyline would stand as is. I think this helps me not only contextualize my feelings about the book, but it also is fair because my negative thoughts stem from the first approach and wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if the main character wasn’t Jane Austen. Does that make sense? Read on, maybe it will…
The book begins with Jane Austen pretty much getting set up with a rich man she just met who she daydreams might be a fun match; her mother is absolutely gasping to get Jane married off, and she sells one of her most treasured necklaces to pay for an extravagant dress with the expectation that marriage is imminent after one meeting. Word gets back that the man gets engaged to someone else, Jane is embarrassed. Mum comes in and finds GASP! THE DREADED PAPERS? JANE! HAVE YOU BEEN WR…. WR…. WRITING AGAIN? And she burns the manuscript. Jane’s super upset about it, but eventually she takes a scrap to a witch and gets transported in time, so it’s all good.
My first major, major issue with this book is the way Jane’s mother is portrayed. It’s honestly like the author watched Pride and Prejudice (2005) and modelled her after Mrs. Bennett. From what we know, Cassandra Austen was not a busybody snob who disapproved of Jane’s writing. Quite the contrary, she was supportive of all her children’s intellectual capabilities and they all received good educations. Right off the bat, I was feeling pretty bummed about think book. Strike 1, so to speak.
However, it didn’t really raise any additional major issues of that nature. So, moving on… Specific spoilers after this point.
So, Jane has to deal with modern Britain. Like I said, she materializes on the set of an Austen period drama where everyone is about to do a dance sequence, so she thinks she’s just wandered off and woke up somewhere weird (keeping in mind they’re in period dress, so it looks somewhat normal). She has a Darcy-Elizabeth esque interaction with Fred, and pride and prejudice happens. Haha.
Moving on, the dealing with Britain part of the book is actually quite funny. Jane’s got to find the old witch’s house, so she’s seeing cars, the Tube, getting on trains, figuring out money and prices of things, gets pickpocketed. The true London experience. One of the best parts of the book that I think goes unstated in many reviews is that Jane Austen has had a long lasting impact on culture, arts, and literature. When she goes through the museum or sees her books in a shop, I really smiled. It made me wish that this book were actually possible, and that Jane Austen knew that we are still loving her work so many years later.
Her interactions with modern society are hilarious and often made me think that they would make a great film or short series. It would be something I’d watch if somethings were tidied up, such as:
Now, she experiences an interaction with a bookseller that is a bit ridiculous. She helps him out in a very minor way, and he offers her a rare edition of one of her novels because she’s enthralled with it — why didn’t he recognize her? Like, she’s holding one of her own books and he wouldn’t be like, “Wow, you look like Jane Austen! You’ve never heard of her? No? Well, take this rare book because you helped me not drop any.” Okay, I know this is a time travel novel and we should suspend our reality, but come on.
Combining this with Sofia’s long, drawn out whining about her sleazy husband not wanting her anymore and trading her for a younger starlet, I don’t know why 45% of the story was included. It needs an Edward Scissorhands style chop in many areas, and if that happened, I think it would be a really fun book.
Now, what was done really well makes up for a lot of this, in my opinion. Sofia thinking that Jane was an actor for behind the scenes / prank scenes was a really good idea. It helped Jane have interaction and build a relationship with someone from the present without someone just thinking she’s nuts…. end of. I think that the author did a great job at covering many of those bases that would make this totally ridiculous, even if I found some of it a bit lacking.
As for the romance, it doesn’t really come into play until the late bits of the book, almost to the end. It’s a slow-burn situation, but Jane actually likes him for quite some time (in my opinion) and only realizes after a near-death accident. Jane has to decide whether she wants to stay in the modern day with her newfound love or go back to her day and write her books. See, if she stays, her books get erased. It’s kind of like that time travel trope where if you mess with something in the past, it alters the future, and vice versa. I won’t say what her decision is, but I found it to be bittersweet.
Pros: This book is funny, unique, and includes Jane Austen (that’s a pro, even if there are some elements I thought could’ve been better). Light, easy, and mostly clean. My favorite parts were Jane navigating modern London. Author did a good job at making some of these storylines cover plot holes that could easily have sprouted up with a storyline like this. Where some failed, many others succeeded.
Cons: Jane Austen’s mother being portrayed like an uppity woman who did not approve of her writing. Sofia’s long and drawn out whining about her terrible, sleazy scumbag of a husband not wanting her anymore. Fred and Jane’s marriage is a bit rushed and unrealistic (I mean, less than a month of knowing one another, but whatever, it’s time travel…. the whole thing is unrealistic!).
Rating: 3 stars for “liked it”