I just started (and finished, so read the following with care if you don't like spoilers) a book that explores every Jane Austen fan's greatest fantasy: what would it be like to actually live in Regency England? The novel, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, by Laurie Viera Rigler, follows Courtney Stone as she wakes up in the body of Jane Mansfield, a thirty-year-old Victorian woman who is hovering on the brink of spinsterhood.
The book is peppered with references to Jane Austen novels, but, unlike most literature aimed at Jane Austen "addicts," it explores an entirely new story line and characters, rather than rehashing Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy one more time. In a way, it is essentially a mystery novel as Courtney struggles to figure out what happened in Jane's life before the two women switched places, and her internal monologue is also hilarious, providing a 21st-century voice in an otherwise-ordinary tea time story of romance in the 1800s. Over all, it is fairly entertaining and an incredibly quick read.
With all this said, however, one thing that was slightly problematic for me was that, for a self-proclaimed Jane Austen addict, Courtney is rather ignorant of the lives and times of Victorian men and women. She is generally astonished by the daily events in the life of the young single woman, and she doesn't seem to understand what is expected of her socially, instead making blunders that I don't think anyone who has read any Jane Austen novels would make.
Another aspect of the novel that was slightly problematic for me was the plethora of unanswered questions at the end: how did Jane discuss 21st-Century ideas with other characters before the two women (presumably) switched lives? Was there a connection between them beforehand, as the fortuneteller seems to imply? If so, why was Courtney so completely unaware of this connection? Is Mr. Mansfield, Jane's father, also a time traveler?
In addition, the two male love interests (one 19th-century, one 21st-century) seem to converge in the end in a very confusing couple of paragraphs on the second-to-last page, which posed more questions rather than answering the ones already presented. Is this a case of reincarnation? Are Wes and Charles Edgeworth connected in the same way that Courtney and Jane are? We don't find out one way or the other, and I'm beginning to suspect that even the author doesn't know for sure what's going on.
While Riglers delves a bit into metaphysics to attempt to answer the time travel and identity questions, she does not devote enough time to actually attempt to answer any of them. I understand she's working on a sequel (from the point of view of Jane Mansfield, transported to the 21st century), so perhaps Riglers is trying to whet the reader's appetite--unsuccessfully. I don't like to put down a "fun" book with a bucketload of unanswered questions, and this was, essentially, written to be a frothy, fun book.
Overall, then, I would give this book a C+. While it is entertaining in a frivolous, decadent way, it poses too many questions that it doesn't bother answering, and the final epilogue of the book is completely unnecessary, negating much of the good the beginning and middle of the book brought. I would recommend it for those who enjoy Jane Austen novels, and only for those who do, as its charms would be completely wasted on those who do not.