What a fun novel! I am so glad I stumbled across this novel and I cannot wait to read more of Syrie James’ works. I can’t remember where I first read about it or why I thought I had to read it, but I checked it out of the library last month and have waited patiently to read it as I trekked through Les Misérables I once again, however, tricked myself into not knowing ANYTHING about the book and did not realize that James wrote a novel in a novel so that was pleasantly unexpected.
I think what I enjoyed most about this novel was the contrast between the missing manuscript The Stanhopes and the modern story of those who find the manuscript. The two novels were intertwined enough to make it interesting, but not so much to make it confusing (I’m looking at you Ms. Atwood! [Even though I still love you and The Blind Assassin was phenomenal]).
HOWEVER, the novel would only have improved if James invested additional time into the modern story. There was so little character building and so little story that I desperately wanted to know more and was more interested in their future and what not. I do get that both the time (72-96 hours) in the story was limiting, as was the space in the novel (422 pages), but I still wished for more! There were a few things which happened only because this was a book sequence wise. The ability of Samantha to discover a missing letter from Austen and then immediately follow it up and discover the missing manuscript within 48 hours and then of course by the end of the novel falls in love with the unbelievably handsome British Anthony is a bit unbelievable, but I LOVED it none-the-less. I mean let’s face it it is romance for a reason and you have to swoon!
As for The Stanhopes I felt she did a great job mimicking Austen’s style and she gave herself a lot of wiggle room by making sure to say on multiple occasions that this novel was an early novel, somewhere between her juvenilia and her finished published novels. So even though it wasn’t as witty or well written as Austen novels, you could definitely see that James did her research and created a believable work which could be attributed to Austen. Having only read works by Austen from that time period (that I’m aware of) I can’t say whether or not the subject matter is equivalent to something written then. It is a bit forward for Austen, but I could easily see some of the bits that I think are forward being toned down through the editing process.
I think what I most enjoyed about this novel is that as a lover of Austen, and as any lover of any particular deceased author will understand, is the draw to the fact that there could be something more out there that has yet to be discovered! What if there were a seventh full novel out there? What if Austen actually wrote a series of short stories or her own sequels to some of the novels? This idea of the unknown and searching for it and the mystery/search that James included was brilliant and provided the gripping beginning of this novel and she was even able to retain that in the end with a new ‘will he or won’t he’ moment!
Recommendation: If you enjoy romance novels read this. If you enjoy Jane Austen novels read this. Even if you don’t enjoy either of these, I’m sure you can find something in this novel to love, if only for its whimsy! James truly understands, or at least convinced me she understands, Austen and what her novels mean to many fans. Take a look at a few of the quotes below and you’ll see reasons why you should read Austen and why they have stood the test of time, and will continue to stand.
Opening Line: “The minute I saw the letter, I knew it was hers.”
Closing Line: “As we strolled on, taking in the rare beauty of the day, I knew there was nowhere else I’d rather be.” (Whited out.)
Additional Quotes from The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen
“Austen’s works have endured because she had a superb narrative technique and a gift for creating characters who feel as real as life itself. She didn’t just write about romance. She covered subjects and social and emotional struggles that are still very relevant today. She could pull at your heartstrings, but she could also make you laugh and cry. At the end of her books, if you’re paying attention, you come away feeling a little wiser about yourself and about what’s important in life.” (30)
“It reminded me that good literature is alive—always reinterpreted and reunderstood every time it’s read anew. I often talked about how a good story works on us, even if we know the outcome. Even though we know Romeo and Juliet will die, we’re pulling for them not to every time we encounter their story.” (223)
“I’d been reading all the books—which I loved by the way—and I started to understand what you were trying to tell me, about what Austen was trying to say. How at the end of her novels, if you’re paying attention, you come away feeling a little wiser about yourself and what’s important in life. They’re all basically about distinguishing the true from the false, about owning up to your mistakes, learning from them, mending them, and moving forward with new insight about yourself and others. Self-awareness is everything. Once I got to Persuasion it finally hit me. It’s no different in real life than it is in the novels.” (405)