First Impressions by Charlie Lovett
Reviewed by Diane K.M.
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars
This novel is ridiculous. The writing could be cliched and cringe-worthy, and I came close to abandoning the book several times. If the story had not involved Jane Austen I would not have finished it.
Despite these irritations, there were a few things I liked about "First Impressions." It opens in 1796 in Hampshire, with Jane Austen meeting Richard Mansfield, an elderly clergyman. Eventually the two become good friends, sharing ideas about books and literature. We see the fictional version of Jane becoming more confident as a writer, and sharing early drafts of her novels with Mr. Mansfield. Lovett invents numerous letters, taken from the text of Austen's real novels, and even though I thought it was twee, some fans might get a kick out of this.
Meanwhile, the story also follows Sophie Collingwood, who is a modern-day bibliophile in London. The novel alternates chapters between Jane's life and Sophie's, and Sophie gets caught up in a mystery about something Mansfield wrote back in 1796. Sophie goes on a hunt to prove that Jane Austen wasn't a plagiarist, and this melodramatic mystery quickly became absurd.
What I did like were the bookish aspects of the novel. Sophie was close with an uncle who is also a bibliophile, and the two had long conversations about their love of literature. Sophie also starts dating a guy who collects 18th and 19th century books, and another guy who shares her passion for Jane Austen's works.
What I did not like was the trite writing and two-dimensional characters. I almost hurt myself doing exaggerated eye rolls while reading. Here are a few examples:
* Sophie describes one of her fellas as a "drop-dead gorgeous, charming, intelligent man." BLECH.
* During the ridiculous hunt for clues, Sophie comes to a locked door, kicks it open and says something like, "Good thing I took those kickboxing lessons." OH MY GOD. DID YOU SERIOUSLY WRITE THAT?
* During the final showdown with the villain, there is a pause in the action so the bad guy can explain his evil plan. Lovett wrote that he was "leaning against the fireplace, seeming to enjoy prolonging his moment of triumph." DO YOU SEE WHAT I MEAN, PEOPLE? THIS NOVEL IS SO CORNY IT'S ANNOYING.
The book is filled with references to Austen's writing, but I cannot in good conscience recommend it to my fellow Janeites. I was disappointed because I had been excited to read this book involving Jane Austen as a character. However, I think this will be one of those silly stories that I shall forget as soon as I return it to the library.
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