Several years ago, while working at $corporate_bookstore, I came across Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler which promised a fresh perspective in the Jane Austen paraliterature canon. I had been burned before by authors who use Austenmania as the foundation for their work, usually bogging themselves down by trying too hard to emulate Austen instead of just using her or her work as inspiration. What I really adored about Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict was that it didn’t seem to fall into the same tangles and missteps as other Austen inspired novels: the writing was contemporary and not fake-Georgian/Regency era, story was well paced, background was well researched, the comedic errors were indeed funny and above all else, I really liked the heroine Courtney Stone.
I could relate, which is hugely important when writing chick-lit, to the heroine’s experiences and I could also identify with her. This is really where Rigler excelled: she wrote chick-lit without making the heroine vacuous or implausible and she stayed (more or less) true to Austenesque style, which is where 90% of Austen regenerators fail.
One of the advantages of working in a bookstore is that you usually have your finger on what is going in the world of books and publishing much sooner than the general public, which was fantastic for me since I could keep atop on my Austen paraliterature better than the Austen blogging world. Having not worked at $corporate_bookstore since January of 2009, I’ve not been as diligent at finding new authors and books. Thus when finding out Rigler had written a parallel novel, Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, to tell Jane Fairfax’s side of the story, I was intrigued and hopeful. If Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict was fabulous, how much more awesome would be Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict?
The answer is: Not so much.
If you haven’t read Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, here is a quick recap: Courtney Stone, 21st century Angeleno, finds out her fiance is cheating on her and breaks up with him. Stone’s passion is everything Austen (natch) and after days of obsessive reading/watching/listening, she smacks her head while drunk in a pool and wakes up in Georgian era England (Austen’s period) in the body of Jane Fairfax. Courtney has her own personality/memories, she also must contend with the memories of Jane Fairfax. Hilarity, anachronisms, misunderstandings and love ensues (obvs).
While Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict concentrated on 21st Courtney’s story, Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict would tell of 19th century Jane Fairfax in the wilds of L.A. The premise then, is that while Courtney fixes Jane’s “life,” Jane too must fix Courtney’s “life.” Supposed hilarity, anachronisms, missteps and love ensues. Everyone goes home happy.
While I liked the idea and the concept, the execution was not as well done as Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict. Rigler tries too hard to bridge the misunderstandings of a 19th century girl in a 21st century world, but the whole thing fell apart for me. I thought Rigler could have had a lot of fun with this, but the situations and problems she throws Jane in seem to be too conceptualized and trite. (Jane stumbling about as she learns about modern living for EVERYTHING LITTLE THING was stifling at best.) What I wanted, and what the premise of the book foreshadowed, was a young woman who had been oppressed for years, finds her own voice and freedom. Instead, she falls into the same trap as every other damn heroine in chick-lit.
In the end, SHE MARRIES THE FUCKING MAN! What would have worked is having Jane/Courtney come into her own, find her own footing, become a 21st century woman, make her passion (drawing) into a career. She doesn’t. Instead, she flounders for a few weeks, has everything taken care of for her by a man (just as in her past “life”) and learns nothing about freedom or independence. Wasn’t the point for Jane to fix Courtney’s life, thus by ensuring “Courtney’s” ability to stand on her own two feet and becoming her own person?
I was also confused as to what moral message Rigler was attempting to give here, surely if she is attempting to project that Jane/Courtney understands that things are different in the 21st century (as such Courtney/Jane discovers about 19th century in the first book), so are the mores of women. However, Rigler doesn’t do that, instead she just throws in some proto-feminist crap, makes weak argument about the sexual life of today’s woman and then drops it.
What the hell?
I adored Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict because of all the reasons I stated at the beginning of this review, but the Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict was nothing more than a huge mess. Rigler could have a had a lot of fun with this book by using Jane/Courtney to give a fresh perspective of 21st century life via a 19th century set of eyes. Instead, the text is a muddled piece of vacuousness with unbelievable and creepy characters1.
Also, the leading man? Wes? Man has no balls or spine but he DOES come from money, so obviously this fixes everything. If you want fun, read Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and forget that the second book exists. I think Rigler has a lot of talent, I’m hoping Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict is not indicative of her future works. If so, well, she needs to find another shtick because this 21st century girl won’t be buying.
1. Deepa creeped me out — I didn’t find her to be “helpful” or “guiding” Jane towards the answers, for surely, that is what she was supposed to have been doing. Again, another character whose life was made simpler by a divorce from a man with money – how fitting. Rigler seems to be saying here, then, that the only way to true happiness is to marry a man with money. Because obviously, our sister suffragettes struggle for over 200 years means shit.