3 out of 4 stars
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Jane Austen Lied to Me is a contemporary novel by Jeanette Watts. Elizabeth Barrett (Lizzie) is a college girl who is an Anglophile. In particular, she is obsessed with all things related to Jane Austen and compares everything to characters and storylines from Austen’s novels. In fact, one guy she meets is named Darcy Fitzwilliam (remember Fitzwilliam Darcy from Pride and Prejudice?). When Lizzie’s real life goes off track from her storybook imaginings, she becomes confused. You see, it’s easier for her to view things through the lens of literary fiction than live her life without preconceived notions.
I enjoyed this creatively written book with a quirky, likable main character. Lizzie often wonders how Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice would act and tries to emulate her. She even compares her math professor, Professor Jacobsen, to Colonel Brandon from Sense and Sensibility and thinks about what it would be like to be involved with a much older man. Lizzie’s tutoring sessions with Professor Jacobsen turn into a warm friendship of sorts. These scenes are exceptionally written.
Much of the story focuses on the ordinary happenings of college life – hanging out on campus, class assignments, working part-time, and potential romantic interests. The book has the format of dated diary-style entries, even though it reads like a traditional story. One issue I had is that each “chapter” isn’t separated (e.g. - separate page, extra line break) and sometimes ends abruptly. As a result, there is a compressed feel and a less-than-smooth transition between entries.
The story is written in first person in a light, conversational style. There is a dry humor on display that borders on hilarious at times. When Darcy offends her, Lizzie thinks to herself, “And he better not ever need a library book checked out again. I will be marking it six years overdue since…he can afford to pay the fines.”
The pacing is slow and the plot could be more cohesive. Initially, it seemed the central plot was going to be about Lizzie and Darcy, but the story wound up moving in different directions. Long sections would be about a specific man or topic and then the story would switch to something unrelated, such as Lizzie’s struggles with math, uncertainty over her career path, or another male friend. Some of the characters are featured only to be thrown to the back burner for long stretches. When the main premise (a woman who views her life in relation to Jane Austen’s books) is zeroed in on, the book shines. The rest of the time, the plot gets bogged down by the mundane routines of college life.
I give this book a rating of 3 out of 4 stars. I loved the author’s writing style and all of the characters are relatable. Despite the issues I mentioned, I still enjoyed the story and absolutely loved the ending. I recommend this book to Jane Austen fans, as well as anyone who likes light, contemporary fiction.
Jane Austen Lied to Me
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