Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen - Syrie James

Rating: 5/10

I bought Syrie James' The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen because I had read several glowing reviews and I particularly liked the premise. I wanted to absolutely love this book, but as my rating tells you, I didn't. The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen is by no means a bad book. It just doesn't, in my opinion, add much to the variety of Austenian books that are now abundant. 

The story goes like this: An old attic chest containing Jane Austen's memoirs is discovered, a remarkable treasure for Austen fans around the world. This book is, more or less, what Jane Austen wrote in her memoirs, with helpful footnotes added in by an 'editor'. What the memoir reveals is something that every Janeite would be delighted about: Austen who wrote with such insight on love and relationships but never seemed to have a significant man in her life, actually had a love of her life:  Mr. Ashford.

Syrie James has quite a challenging task at hand: she has to write as Jane Austen, an author who is known for her subtle wit, heavy sarcasm and fascinating observations on society. I think James is quite up to the task and brings across the feel and mood of our Austen and her era. But my major problem with the book comes from the fact that there's not a single thing in the book that an Austen fan wouldn't know. Therefore, the book is extremely predictable and gives you nothing special.

What irked me the most was the fact that so very conveniently, this book's Ms.Austen drew from her own life to script the life of her characters. But that's an understatement: James' Austen does not 'draw' from her own life. She more or less takes events from her life as significant plot lines in her books. Indeed Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice, according to this book, were both inspired by Mr.Ashford and Jane's romance with him.

I didn't like the fact that there was no subtlety in explaining how her life inspired her work. Mr.Ashford's 'engagement' = Edward's engagement with Lucy Steele, Mr.Ashford = Darcy, Pembroke Hall = Pemberley, Mr. Morton = Mr.Collins, Mr.Wellington = Mr.Willoughby. It's like Austen never really created a world with her books. She just was 'inspired'! And when actual quotes from Austen's books seem to be presented as dialogues of the characters, I was annoyed. Sample this:
''Yes indeed, squire,' said Mr.Morton, 'I have given a great deal of thought to that very subject, and it is a matter of vital interest to me. I think it a right thing for every clergyman to set the example of matrimony in his parish...'

What I disliked was the fact that Austen seemed to vent her anger with the people in her real life by giving their traits to her characters. I just never imagined that the crux of two of her classics could be copy pasted from her own life and that seemed to trivialise, in a sense, the writing talent of Ms.Austen. Inspiration is well and good, but copy pasting plot lines seemed awkward to me.

With a deluge of Austen-related fiction cropping up, I think it is important for each book to have its specialty or unique value. Otherwise, it might end up drowning in the ocean of Austenian fiction, each overlapping with the other and offering little to the reader. Sadly, I think The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen is such a case. 

But I seem to be in the minority in this regard. As honest as I have been about this book, I think it is important for me to point out that most of my fellow Austen fans and bloggers have loved this book. I wouldn't really recommend this book unless it is for a boring weekend, but you might thinking of  borrowing the book from a library just in case you might love it. 


Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Sorry this one didn't work for you. I did like it, but the funny thing is, I can't stand most Austen-related fiction. I feel like they're just ripping off Austen's plots. I think the main reason I enjoyed this one so much was because so much of it used facts from Austen's life. I know it pulled from her fiction for Mr. Ashford, but it still worked for me. Hope your next read is better!

Kals said...

I can see why it worked for some people, but it sadly wasn't my cup of tea. Thanks :)

Kim said...

I only read Austen's works a few years ago (sad, but true) and haven't read many Austen-like books, so I did enjoy this one--enough to want to read her other ones (haven't yet). I don't have your vast knowledge on the subject which is probably why I was able to enjoy this on a lazy afternoon.

P.S. Just letting you know I have moved to a new blog, with some other women. We're just getting started and trying it on for size, but have several things in the works. Stop in for a just might like our header quote :)

Kals said...

LOL, my knowledge of Austen probably doesn't have much to do with it since people who are much more well-versed with Austen enjoyed this book :) But many thanks for the compliment!

Also, thanks for sharing the blog address with me. I love the header quote indeed and the blog looks splendid! What an exciting idea to blog with a group of other women :) Now following.

Priya Parmar said...

oh no! i just bought this a few weeks ago. not so keen now as i always trust your reviews!

Kals said...

Aw, Priya that is a precious compliment that I shall cherish :) I'm sorry the book didn't work out for me, but many others enjoyed it. You might too!


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