Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life. (synopsis from Goodreads)
I had a lot of fun reading this book. I will admit that I went in skeptically since I am a huge Jane Austen fan and tend to be a little nit picky with anything that uses Jane Austen or her works. I was pleasantly surprised.
It became obvious that Charlie Lovett is a fan of Jane Austen. There were many times in the plot where I was able to tell which Austen novel inspired it. I smiled when I found that the name of the bookstore owner Sophie works for was named Mr. Boxhill. (I see what you did there.)
There were many times when the narrative of the story seems to mirror those of Jane Austen’s in just subtle enough ways that it’s not super obvious. Sophie is a smart and relatable character who tends to make some mistakes in her love life which, let’s face it, who hasn’t. There were times when I wanted to smack her upside the head to get her see what was directly in front of her, but not in a “I can’t stand this character” way. More like a, “I have friends who have done stuff like this/I have done stuff like this so I want to save you some trouble” kind of way. She’s quite a capable woman when it comes to research, however, her personal life becomes a little rocky since she’s not great at picking up vibes. There isn’t much I can say about Sophie’s storyline without giving spoilers, but overall, the modern mystery of the authorship of one of literature’s most esteemed authors is engaging.
As for the Jane Austen sections, I thought it was an interesting interpretation of how Jane Austen may have been inspired to write her novels. While the idea that Jane Austen had some editing help from an older gentleman of her acquaintance my bother some, I don’t find this a troubling idea. In no way does receiving editing suggestions make someone less talented. In fact, it makes them better. As for her “editor” being a male, this did not bother me either. I thought that it might, but considering the time period in which she was writing, this would be the most likely situation anyway. Also, I never got the impression that Mr. Mansfield had anything but the utmost respect for her writing and mind. I actually loved seeing this relationship take shape. It was a meeting of minds that was beautiful to read and made me hope the Jane Austen really did have this kind of relationship with someone.
Overall, I found this book to be a fun read. There was mystery, drama, and best of all, Jane Austen. What more could a Jane Austen fan and bibliophile ask for?