Don’t let the title fool you: “Jane Austen Ruined My Life,” by author Beth Patillo, is a tender affirmation of devotion to the beloved English writer. It couldn’t be more evident than in the first few pages, where Patillo’s character Emma Grant lovingly recalls the first line in the classic “Pride and Prejudice” “ and my favorite Austen novel, personally: “It is a single truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
Patillo’s modern Austen-esque Emma has been unlucky in love and she blames her situation on the beguiling, always-a-happy-ending stories of Austen. She is recently divorced, has been booted from her position as an English professor and is, frankly, quite broke. With the last of her money, she heads to London on a fuzzy lead from a Mrs. Parrot concerning the lost letters of Austen.
Of course, Mrs. Parrot, as a member of The Formidables “ a secret society devoted to the author and a real-life reference to what Austen and her sister called themselves as maiden aunts “ isn’t going to hand over the correspondence willingly and sends Emma off on a number of Austen-related tasks. Emma traipses through Austen’s England “ mostly Hampshire “ on a quest to prove her worth to Mrs. Parrot and along the way gets closer to Austen as a real woman, someone who died young and single, yet still remained sharp and witty.
Woven throughout, Emma faces her own Austen-worthy story: a best friend who wants more and an ex who shows up at exactly the wrong time.
Patillo, who lives in Nashville, Tenn., yet studied in London, has created a lush story where England plays as much a character as anything else. For Anglophiles and Austen fans, “Jane Austen Ruined My Life” is a joy to read.
“Jenny Coon Peterson