Thursday, March 12, 2009

'Jane Austen Ruined My Life' by Beth Patillo

Let me just come straight out and say that I am not a die-hard fan of Jane Austen or chick lit. Not that I hate either of them, I simply would pass on books by this author or in this genre if given an option to read something else. However, this year is a year of challenges and I decided to read more out of my comfort zone. That’s why I decided to read Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Patillo.
This is a book that meets both requirements of stepping “outside of the box”: the main character is a major sucker for Jane Austen and I would classify the book as chick lit. The story is about Emma Grant, an American professor, recently divorced from her husband and let go in disgrace from her university. Coincidentally with the divorce, Emma is contacted by Mrs. Parrot, who claims to be in possession of never- before- heard- of private correspondence of Jane Austen. In hopes of retrieving the letters and redeeming herself professionally, Emma packs what little she has and gets on the plane to London. And so her adventure with her beloved writer and mysterious Mrs. Potter begins.
Not very often am I so conflicted about a book as I was with Jane Austen Ruined My Life. The whole premise of the book is very interesting. Here we have a broken-hearted woman going in search of something that will help her mend the wrongs done to her. However, I got disappointed with the Emma character, which could have been developed a little more. Considering what Emma went through, there isn’t all that much emotional depth to her, maybe besides quite a few, slightly annoying crying fits. The male characters fall rather flat as well, with the exception of Edward, Emma’s ex, responsible for her ruination. Being a villain in this book, he at least evokes somewhat stronger, if naturally negative, emotions. All and all, the book sometimes gave off an impression that Emma and her adventures are probably quite engaging, it’s just that they are hidden from a reader who knows there’s more there but can’t quite gain access.
Now, I wrote that I was conflicted with the novel, which means that I had some good feelings about it as well. Ms. Patillo is very knowledgeable in Jane Austen field and it becomes nicely apparent in the book. Also, the supposed missing letters are very interesting and add the element of mystery to the story. It was quite entertaining to imagine what Austen really was like, why she wrote the books she wrote and what caused her to remain a spinster to the end. Most importantly, Emma does redeem herself towards the end of the book and manages to stir sympathy and understanding in my stone-cold heart. Overall, I think that Jane Austen Ruined My Life is an okay read, somewhat entertaining with glimpses of Beth Patillo’s true writing skills but because it had a potential for not only a good read but a fantastic one, the book was a tad disappointing.