The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen is an awesome new book by Syrie James, author of bestselling novels like The Lost Memoirs Of Jane Austen, Dracula My Love, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, Nocturne and Forbidden. Due to release on 31st December, The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen is a novel within a novel : a brilliant Austen-style Regency tale inside a lovely modern romance. I must admit that with this new novel Syrie James has surpassed herself and moved forward even respect to a successful achievement like The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen. She did a brilliant job both at delivering a well-designed plot echoing Jane Austen’s voice - but modernizing it for a present-day audience - and at enclosing it in an intriguing frame of quest and romance. Samantha is an American librarian who had to give up her Ph D in English Literature while preparing a dissertation on Jane Austen’s work. She was forced to interrupt her studies in Oxford and go back to home in order to take care of her seriously ill mother. Now she is on a trip in England with her cardiologist boyfriend, Stephen. Since he is engaged in a medical conference in London, she spends her time alone visiting the places of her happy years at Oxford university and while perusing old little bookshops in search for something interesting, she happens to find an ancient book of poetry containing a letter. The book reveals itself as belonging to Jane Austen and inside it there is one of her missing letters. Even more extraordinary is the fact that in that letter Jane refers to a manuscript she lost in 1802 visiting Greenbriar, the Whitakers’ mansion in the countryside, in Dorset.
Samantha can’t resist, she must look for that place, visit it and discover more. She has just a few days but she can’t renounce her quest. Greenbriar belongs now to Anthony Whitaker, who doesn’t actually welcome her and her research at first. But when they start searching the huge library in the house together, they not only find clues of Jane Austen’s presence there in July 1801 and July 1802 but, well hidden in a secret compartment of one of the cabinets, they discover “The Stanhopes”, Jane’s missing 336-page-long manuscript, split up into 42 booklets. They plunge in a long almost non-stop reading session, both caught in Rebecca and her father’s stories, The Stanhopes. Rebecca’s world is incredibly Jane Austen’s world. So many of the characters there might well have been written by Austen herself. The story opens with the unfortunate events in the quiet life of a village vicar, Rev. Stanhope. He gets cast out of his parish, home and livelihood on a charge of gambling away church funds by his rich patron who substitutes him with his own nephew, Mr Philip Clifton. Rebecca, the reverend’s beautiful and musically gifted daughter cannot believe her father may have done something like that and she despises the young clergyman stealing their home and life. Nevertheless, until her father’s innocence can be proven, father and daughter must embark on an exile during which they must rely on the charity of relatives. False impressions and false friends, handsome rogues and selfish antagonists make “The Stanhopes” an incredible gripping story and when Anthony and Samantha take breaks while reading , you may find yourself longing for them to re-start as soon as possible! Anyhow, both story-lines are brilliantly coped with and together they give life to an excellent page-turner . I was equally interested in each one of the tales: present-day Samantha dealing with her feelings, aspirations, loyalties and her fondness for everything Austen and Regency heroine, Rebecca Stanhope with her misadventures through difficult times. In designing “The Stanhopes”, Syrie James used Austen’s “Plan of a Novel”, the notes for a book Jane never came to write and consequently we never came to read. Syrie James gave those notes a chance to become a real story and I especially appreciated her ability in creating the myriad of amazing Austen-inspired characters and so many exciting twists and turns reminding the best Austen tradition. Watch out for this novel. If you love this genre, it’ll be one of your favorite reads in 2013! (You can pre-order The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen HERE)
N.B. Syrie James will be my guest on January 2nd with a very special post and there will be a giveaway contest for a copy of this book. Stay tuned.