Title: The Jane Austen Project
Author: Kathleen A. Flynn
Genre/Themes: Drama, Time Travel, Jane Austen, Feminism, Role of Women in Society
Blurb from Goodreads
Perfect for fans of Jane Austen, this engrossing debut novel offers an unusual twist on the legacy of one of the world’s most celebrated and beloved authors: two researchers from the future are sent back in time to meet Jane and recover a suspected unpublished novel.
London, 1815: Two travelers—Rachel Katzman and Liam Finucane—arrive in a field in rural England, disheveled and weighed down with hidden money. Turned away at a nearby inn, they are forced to travel by coach all night to London. They are not what they seem, but rather colleagues who have come back in time from a technologically advanced future, posing as wealthy West Indies planters—a doctor and his spinster sister. While Rachel and Liam aren’t the first team from the future to “go back,” their mission is by far the most audacious: meet, befriend, and steal from Jane Austen herself.
Carefully selected and rigorously trained by The Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics, disaster-relief doctor Rachel and actor-turned-scholar Liam have little in common besides the extraordinary circumstances they find themselves in. Circumstances that call for Rachel to stifle her independent nature and let Liam take the lead as they infiltrate Austen’s circle via her favorite brother, Henry.
But diagnosing Jane’s fatal illness and obtaining an unpublished novel hinted at in her letters pose enough of a challenge without the continuous convolutions of living a lie. While her friendship with Jane deepens and her relationship with Liam grows complicated, Rachel fights to reconcile the woman she is with the proper lady nineteenth-century society expects her to be. As their portal to the future prepares to close, Rachel and Liam struggle with their directive to leave history intact and exactly as they found it…however heartbreaking that may prove.
“What kind of maniac travels in time? I was thirty-three the year I went to 1815, single and childless, a volunteer after humanitarian disasters in Peru, Haiti, and most recently Mongolia. Between these, I worked in the emergency department at Bellevue Hospital in New York and liked vacations that involved trekking through mountains or swimming in very cold water, in corners of the earth where such things were still possible. Love of adventure might seem an odd mix with devotion to the wit and subtlety of Jane Austen, but together they are me. What Norman had revealed that night – Jane Austen, time travel – was nothing less than what I had been waiting for my whole life. Unknowingly, of course, because who could imagine such a crazy thing?”
A Jane Austen themed time travelling book…
It just sounded too bizarre to not be read!!! And so I had to track down a copy of this and ordered it online.
And I really, reeeeeeeeeally liked it!
I’m a big fan of Jane Austen. When I first read ‘Emma‘ as a teenager I knew I’d found my author. That one author whose books I could always count on to entertain me, to move me and to steal my heart & mind. I raced through all her titles loving each one more fervently that the last.
I also tend to hate reading retellings of Jane Austen’s books. I could not care less about how some random author thinks that Elizabeth or Darcy or whomever lived after the books. No author will ever compare to Austen so just stop trying with these sad, pale little imitations!! Go have your own ideas and invent new characters and stop using (and frequently abusing!!) Austen’s!!!!
So why read this book??
What makes this one different?
Well for a start it’s not a retelling of ‘Pride and Prejudice‘ or any of Jane’s other novels.
Instead it’s an imagining of a particular time in Jane’s own life but mashed up with a nice dollop of science fiction writing. But the kind of science fiction writing that feels maybe like it could be believable. It’s not all aliens and spaceships. It’s the more subtle and psychological kind.
The premise for the book is that two “researchers” from sometime in our future are sent back in time to September 1815 because there is reason to believe that the unfinished work we all know as ‘The Watsons‘ was in fact completed by that year. The mission of the researchers is to befriend Henry Austen, Jane’s favourite brother, and to subsequently find themselves in a position to meet the author herself. Thereafter the aim is to locate the completed manuscript and also locate any additional letters written between Jane and her sister Cassandra….. without messing up things in the past and therefore altering the timeline as we know it….
SURE HOW COULD IT GO WRONG??????
I don’t know about you but this sounds so batshit crazy that I was immediately on board!!!! The parts of the book set in the 19th century were absolutely perfect for me. This truly felt like a thoroughly well researched historical novel and it is clear that the author is a keen student of all things Austen and 19th century England.
The author, Kathleen A. Flynn is said to be a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America and I think their fervour for Jane is evident for all to read with just the right amount of references to Austen’s novels and a wide base of knowledge about Austen’s personal life that made the imagined character of Jane feel authentic.
The situations the futuristic main characters found themselves in seemed very well thought out; the atmosphere and settings of the 1815/16 story were beautifully drawn and as a reader I really believed that these researchers were living in the past. What was particularly enjoyable to me was the juxtaposition of finding these more contemporary-feeling main characters in this historical setting.
The book was related from the point of view of one of the researchers, Rachel, a single woman in her 30s and I loved the contrast of her views on women regarding independence/career/sex etc. versus how she had to act in 1815 so as not to arouse suspicion. She was a brilliant character and I loved seeing her confidence mixed with this ever creeping doubt about the mission; she increasingly struggled with the concept of not interfering with the past so as not to alter the future and made this quite a psychological book in many aspects as it frequently felt like a thought experiment for time travel. Her relationship with her fellow researcher Liam was immediately appealing. It was not a traditional romantic story but more one of practicality and “needs must” and I just loved how complicated it was.
“Sometimes I see us there still, all innocence and ignorance, everything before us”
My slight drawbacks about this book are more anchored in the futuristic settings and the explanations behind the time travel. I would have liked them to have a little more panache… Something that was a touch more gritty? Colder even, and significantly more twisty in set up and plot. I thought the ending played things a little too safe.
HOWEVER! It did give great pause for thought about the changes we can bring about by the simplest of our actions.
But as the bulk of this novel takes place during Jane Austen’s life that was the key section of this story and it was nigh on perfect.
Therefore, I would happily recommend this to any fan of Jane Austen and fans of historical fiction with a twist.