I'm absolutely thrilled with this wonderful review from Laura Boyle for Jane Austen Lives again - thank you, Laura!
Imagine a world where Jane Austen and her favorite characters exist in a Downton Abbey atmosphere—Impossible, you say, and yet, apart from the passage of years, they are all gentlemen and gentlemen’s daughters, as Elizabeth Bennet so succinctly puts it. In Jane Odiwe’s latest novel, Jane Austen Lives Again, our favorite author does not die at 42 in Winchester, but is kept, somehow in stasis, until Dr. Lyford can not only cure her last lingering illness, but revive her again in the prime of her life. The scientific details are not spelled out, and honestly, it doesn’t matter, as Ms. Odiwe’s book will captivate you from the first. Finally we are able to see Jane “live again” sans vampires and magic, and enjoy her introduction to modern life in the 1920’s.
Ms. Odiwe is unabashedly nostalgic about paying tribute to her favorite novels and stories of the period, from Cold Comfort Farm and I Capture the Castle, to Downton Abbey, all the while painting a lovely, if complicated plot involving recognizable characters from Austen’s own novels. A “novel” concept, indeed!
The story begins with Jane awaking in a new century, shortly after the close of the Great War, her recovery is glossed over, but her shock at having become a “famous” novelist is of course delightful. Unfortunately, the copyrights have expired and who would believe the truth, anyway. She is forced to take a position as companion to five young ladies living at Manberley Castle (shades of Rebecca, anyone?) a rather decrepit country estate in Devon. Her surprise at finding grown women rather than the children she was expecting is soon overcome by her realization that the entire family could use some help in realizing their full potential. In true Flora Poste style, she sets out, with just the right nudge here and opportune word there, to bring the family into some semblance of decorum.
Populating the castle, are Lord and Lady Milton, Lord Milton’s oldest children, Alice (a winning combination of Elinor Dashwood and Anne Elliot), Will (could there be any doubt?) and Mae (the personification of Marianne Dashwood with just a hint of Lousia Musgrove) along with three more daughters from his second marriage, Beth (Elizabeth Bennet), Emily (Emma Woodhouse) and Cora (Jane Bennet). The rest of the neighborhood is peopled with various other characters recognizable from Jane Austen’s novels while the downstairs staff has a distinct propensity towards Downton.
Throughout the novel, Jane takes her young charges in hand managing their personal trials and love lives with an author’s deftness, all the while failing to take into consideration the love story happening in her own life. Her own difficulties in finding her place in this brave new world, in making room for her writing and in giving her heart a second chance can only be all-absorbing to the reader with the same literary taste as Ms. Odiwe.
Throughout the novel you will find delightful surprises and references to Austen’s works as well as the others listed. Julius’ home, Salcombe Magna is just such a one and gives a glimpse of who he is and what is in store for Mae (but is he truly as wicked as Willoughby, or only a selfish Frank Churchill?) So many characters are given facets of others that it will keep you guessing to the very end—and who could ever complain about a novel with two Mr. Darcys!
Fleshing out the novel are delightful descriptions of castle life, walks about the countryside, trips to the seaside and even a climactic scene in a London nightclub, so reminiscent of Lady Rose MacClare’s Jazz club adventures in Downton Abbey. In fact, the pervasive popularity of that show is a wonderful thing for the reader trying to picture just how life might have played out, upstairs and down, and how the vividly detailed gowns and ensembles would have looked. Jane is, as she ever was, pleased to be looking fashionable once again. A treat to the imaginative reader, the novel also provides ample scenes from Austen’s previous life, introducing her family to us as well as providing a plausible backstory for her turquoise “engagement” ring. Later rings feature towards the end of the book, including a suspiciously familiar sapphire and diamond (could any proposal be more perfect?)
All in all, Jane Austen Lives Again will be a treasured addition to any sequels library. The winning combination of old and new will have you guessing to the very end just what is in store for our heroines (of which there are many). The final scene, in the hall, decorating the Christmas tree strikes just the right note of closure, though one could wish the book to go on forever—would a sequel even be possible? I, for one, certainly think so, and would be glad to spend more hours in such amiable company. Kudos again to Ms. Odiwe for continually testing her creative limits, bringing Jane Austen to life (again) in such a fresh and imaginative way.