“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife…” … is really the only line in Pride and Prejudice I care to remember. I know, I KNOW, I am pretty much the only romance-loving woman who is not seriously into Jane Austen. I don’t get it either. So I kind of rolled my eyes a little when I realized Charlie Lovett’s new book was a mystery about good old P&P. I was SO looking forward to it because his debut, The Bookman’s Tale, was so wonderful. But I shouldn’t have despaired because in the hands of a good writer, even a Jane Austen-hater can be convinced.
As in The Bookman’s Tale, the narrative follows two story lines, one present and one past. In the present, we meet Sophie Collingwood, a recent Literature grad who (like most Literature grads) has no idea what she wants to do with her life. Her beloved uncle dies in a suspicious “fall,” and while attempting to restore his library (sold off to pay for the family estate, naturally — there had to be SOME British stereotypes!), she begins to work at an antiquarian bookshop in London. In the span of a day or so, two different customers request the same obscure book: the second edition of Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Her search for the title leads her into a mystery that questions the author of her favorite book, Pride & Prejudice. In the meantime, we follow a young Jane Austen and her friendship with Richard Mansfield, an aging cleric who encourages her writing and is a deep influence in her life. It is during their friendship that she gets the idea for an epistolary novel about a young man and woman named Darcy and Bennett who make disastrous “first impressions”…or was it really his?
As a book and mystery lover, I was pretty much already going to love this book, despite my anti-P&P bias. The mystery was well-paced and suspenseful, the reader is left guessing whether Sophie can save Jane Austen’s reputation and who is really coming after her and the book until the end. While I liked Sophie, my main critique of the novel is that she felt very one-note throughout the book and as a whole, the character development was a bit shallow. Her love triangle is entertaining, if not predictable. Just how does one choose between the hot smooth-talking book publisher who wines and dines you and the confident and attractive American literary scholar who writes you funny and romantic letters from his travels? Of course, you’d have to believe her “first impressions” of these suitors…
Under the mystery, the book is all about love…romantic love, familial love, the love between close friends, and the love of books and the worlds they transport us to. Reading the book is as pleasant a journey as a stroll around the English countryside, perfect for spring. Bibliophiles rejoice, if Charlie Lovett keeps writing beautiful love letters to literature like First Impressions, we’ll all be very happy indeed.
Rating: 7, Darn good (Highly recommended book that is well paced and enjoyable with a few flaws.)