When we first heard about Cindy Jones’ debut novel, My Jane Austen Summer, we were excited to read it. Despite our joking about His Lordship, we really do admire Mansfield Park, and found it refreshing to have an Austen-inspired novel feature MP. Fortunately in this case our anticipation was rewarded with a fun and intelligent novel in which love of Jane Austen’s work, especially Mansfield Park, shows in every word.
Lily Berry is searching for direction: she has lost her job and is grieving for her mother, and her boyfriend has dumped her for an inferior model; he tells Lily, with a shrug, that the new girl is, unlike Lily, “not needy.” Scorched-earth tactics are clearly necessary, and Lily sells all her things to pay for a plane ticket to the UK, where she will take part in Literature Live, in which actors bring Jane Austen’s novels to life in an authentic baronial manor. What better way could a Janeite spend a summer getting her life back together than living inside an actual Jane Austen novel?
As many heroines before Lily have experienced, however, things don’t work out quite as planned. Lily, who fudged her acting credentials and quickly shows herself an iconoclast in the production by actually liking Fanny Price, doesn’t get a part in MP!Live, except as a stand-in for her spacy roommate who doesn’t want to be there and has never read Jane Austen—and worst yet, lost Lily’s gold cross necklace, the last connection with her mother—but whose rich father has donated lots of cash to Literature Live. Lily’s Jane Austen (we all have one, don’t we, Janeites?) follows her around the manor, lurking just out of her sightlines, her actions silently snarky commentary on the proceedings. News from home is no better—Lily’s father is planning to remarry a shockingly brief time after her mother’s death, and evidence builds that the relationship is not a new one.
Just when things start looking really pitiful, Lily meets a sexy Anglican deacon, Willis, who is trying to decide if he really wants to go through with his ordination and writing a novel (we won’t say about what because we nearly fell off our train bench howling with laughter when we read it ) instead of working on his master’s dissertation. Lily is in love, but she’s not sure of Willis’ feelings. Has Fanny Price found her Edmund? Or is Lily really Willis’ Mary Crawford? Or is Willis her Henry Crawford? Or is she really a Maria Bertram after all? The romantic entanglements are as complex as in Mansfield Park, and like MP, we suspect readers will find the ending inspires spirited discussion.
It was a delight to make Lily’s acquaintance; in the beginning of the novel she needs a life reboot and a kick in the rump, which Her Jane Austen delivers, but by the end she has learned, grown, and changed, just like a real Jane Austen heroine, and like any performer who thoroughly inhabits her role, we cheer and cry “Brava!” for her.
We love books that express the author’s love for Jane Austen so well, that fold in Austen’s own stories with such a light, deft touch, and that make us laugh out loud on public transportation. Humiliate us in public some more, please, authors!
Smut level: there is adult content, but it is not explicit, though it’s pretty obvious what is going on.
Lily Berry’s Pink Rose Tea
When we were in Pittsburgh for the Jane Austen Festival a couple of weeks ago, we were delighted to receive a sample of Lily Berry’s Pink Rose Tea, a delicious blend of delicate green tea enhanced with a light scent of rose and tart/sweet berries. The tea was created by Bingley’s Teas “to enhance the experience of reading My Jane Austen Summer.” How fun is that? The tea is available to purchase on Cindy Jones’ website.
Another treat for readers: Cindy has written a short story, “My Jane Austen Vacation,” which also has echoes of Mansfield Park (and some real-life goings-on at Chawton Cottage!). It’s sweet, poignant, and funny; check it out. Also check out an interview with the authoress at Austenprose.