Engineer Mary Davies is having a difficult year. She loves her work, designing new tech at a young startup in Austin, Texas, but her new boss's demands are stifling her creativity. Her favorite project got cancelled, she's worried about getting fired, and her crush seems to be going nowhere. And then, at the worst point--or is it just in the nick of time?--her father encourages her to take her friend Isabel up on her offer of a trip to England.
Isabel is trying to finish her doctoral thesis on Jane Austen and has planned a two-week trip to Bath and an immersive Austen experience. While Isabel and Mary were at one point as close as sisters, they have grown apart as they grew older, and Isabel wants to try to make things right. But soon after they arrive in Bath and begin their Regency experience, she becomes dissociative and truly believes that she is living in the time of Jane Austen. Her pain and fear takes her over, and it's like her recent memories were wiped out. Mary is left in a foreign country to try to take care of her friend as best she can. Although everyone else in the experience are helping as much as possible, it is up to Mary alone to break through to Isabel and bring her back to reality.
Katherine Reay is known for her love of classic literature. Her previous novels--Lizzy and Jane, Dear Mr. Knightley, The Bronte Plot, and to a lesser extent The Portrait of Emily Price--refer heavily to many classic British novels. The Austen Escape clearly plays on her love of Jane Austen, referring to characters and plots of several Austen novels and films. It's not necessary to have read all of Austen's book to enjoy this novel, or even to have read any of them. Although I can't promise you won't be grabbing up some of Jane's best works when you've finished.
One thing I particularly enjoyed in this is the description of the English countryside and Bath in specific. It's been many, many years since I got the chance to visit Bath, but everything she said about it reinforced my memories of the trip and made me want to go back for another visit. And even back then, after the start of the Jane Austen Renaissance but before its height, Jane Austen was a popular selling point to the tourists and a frequently dropped name. At the time I knew of her, of course, but I hadn't yet fallen in love with her work. It would be magical to go back and see it through her beautiful eyes now.
Katherine Reay's The Austen Escape is a delightful diversion from day-to-day drudgery. It's fun and heartfelt and deals with the challenges of friendship and mental distress in a caring and compassionate way. I strongly recommend you read it with a cuppa, a warm blanket, some tasty snacks, and your best friend just a call or text away. You may need a hug when it's over.
Galleys for The Austen Escape were provided by Thomas Nelson through NetGalley, with many thanks.