Beck expected me to buy into the idea that Jane Austen herself was dishing out kooky romantic advice in my living room, nearly two hundred years outside her realm of expertise? That this magical Austenesque journal had somehow slipped through the fingers of collectors, historians, literary buffs, and Mr. Darcy devotees to find its way into a little antiques shop in Austin, Texas?
That last bit gave me pause. Weirder things had very probably happened in this town, I just didn’t know about them. And honestly, that made a world of difference.
(from Austentatious, page 37)
In Austentatious, Alyssa Goodnight transforms Jane Austen into a fairy godmother of sorts, dispensing “Miscellanious Morsels” through a magical journal. Our heroine, Nicola James, is an engineer intent on earning the right to wear a “Keep Austin Weird” shirt — except the only weird thing about Nic is her unwavering commitment to the Life Plan she crafted when she was 13 years old. This plan is all about job security and “sensible” romance with an equally geeky engineer with a 401(k) plan.
Nic’s life plan begins to unravel when she writes in the old journal she found at an antique shop and discovers that Fairy Jane can manipulate her entries, leaving behind vague advice that Nic just doesn’t understand. And somehow the Jane of the journal puts Nic in the path of Sean MacInnes, a fun-loving, sexy Scot who sings in a band and isn’t afraid to wear a kilt. Even though Nic knows there’s no room for Sean in her Plan, she’s determined to solve the mystery of the journal and finds herself giving in to some fun along the way.
Austentatious is quirky and fun, so long as readers are willing to suspend disbelief and believe in the power of Fairy Jane. I loved the idea of Jane Austen creatively twisting words and offering advice, as she was so perceptive when it came to people and relationships. I’ve read a ton of modern-day Austenesque novels, but Goodnight’s stands out with the help of that magical journal. She did a great job making the advice sound like it came straight from Austen’s pen — and most importantly, she made me believe in the journal (and want one of my own).
At first, I found Nic a bit irritating with her droning on and on about her Plan, but she grew on me by the end. The first person narrative makes it feel like you’re chatting with a friend, particularly one who doesn’t realize how crazy-exciting her life actually is. Like the journal, Nic feels real, with lofty dreams that always seem out of reach, a fear of putting herself out there when failure is a possibility, and a knack for embarrassing herself. Goodnight’s secondary characters are just as fun, especially Beck, Nic’s feisty mentee-turned-friend, and Leslie, Nic’s lesbian professor neighbor who spars with Nic over her lack of a personal life.
Loosely based on Pride and Prejudice, Austentatious shows the troubles that ensue when a strong-minded woman makes assumptions about other people and tries too hard to control her life. It’s about how being insensible sometimes makes sense. And interestingly enough, it’s about how an old journal, a mushroom, and karaoke just might change your life.
Disclosure: I borrowed Austentatious from the public library.
© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.