I just finished reading Charlie Lovett's First Impressions, due to come out in a little over a week. (Many thanks for the early look-see to Penguin's peek-at-my-galleys website firsttoread.com. Check it out. It's good stuff.) The book is a literary mystery/romance revolving around Pride and Prejudice. It alternates between a fictionalized version of Jane Austen's story and the modern-day story of a young graduate student and Austen superfan named Sophie.
Sophie is just finishing her master's degree at Oxford when her favorite uncle is killed under suspicious circumstances. The next steps she takes in her life throws her into a mystery whereby it is up to her to save the reputation of Jane Austen, stay alive, decide between two suitors, and discover the truth about her uncle's death.
I am a moderate fan of Jane Austen and currently making my way through Pride and Prejudice (audio is helping, thanks be to almighty Audible!), so I found the scenes with Austen herself interesting. The scenes with Sophie, well, not so much. They moved quickly, so that was nice. They just lacked depth and character development and, well, plausibility.
Between Sophie's really obvious bad romantic decisions and the lack of danger (even the scene where the "bad guy" had a gun to her throat felt ho-hum), the modern-day scenes just lacked tension. Nothing felt real. It felt more like a low-level romantic comedy from the 1990s, a cheap knock-off of a Notting Hill or a Bridget Jones. It's a shame, because the Jane Austen scenes were so well researched and nuanced that they felt like they could be genuine. And then the modern-day scenes just sucked all that reality away, leaving me hanging in a world so vapid that I didn't really care when Sophie was tied to chair in a house on fire.
If you are a Jane Austen superfan, then you might get something out of reading this book. The Austen storyline is interesting. But if you're not an Austenite, I doubt you'll enjoy this book. It's a pity. It's a good idea. Charlie Lovett just doesn't understand what it means to be a woman in today's world.