Syrie James’ The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen is a novel within a novel when librarian Samantha McDonough finds a letter in an old poetry book while on a trip to England with her boyfriend, Stephen. Through this mystery letter, Sam begins an adventure through the countryside of England and enters the novel world of Jane Austen. Through her travels she meets Anthony Whitaker, the heir of the former owner of Greenbrier, a small country estate in England. He’s breathtakingly handsome and intelligent, but at times his dream of owning his own company can take over and make him arrogant and stubborn.
“Anthony and I had been taking turns reading aloud. He was a quick study and had a marvelous gift for bringing characters to life. Hearing Jane Austen’s words in his delectable British accent was divine.” (page 127 ARC)
Like Austen’s characters, Sam and Anthony are flawed, but optimistic — and they lose their way, but eventually stumble onto the right path. James has a way of capturing Austen’s style that belies the modernity of the story she’s telling, and in many ways, readers will get lost in the manuscript, just as Sam and Anthony do. The missing manuscript not only captures everyone’s rapt attention, but highlights the enduring truth of Austen’s words in her own novels. Mirroring the quirky characters Austen created and the hilarious proposals she used in her own novels, James’ missing manuscript echoes the great classics while continuing in the tradition of Austen’s fans by making them fresh and fun.
While the events in the manuscript regarding Miss Stanhope’s family and her love life are predictable, it is the journey that she takes to get to happiness that is worthy of Austen’s approval. James’ character blossoms from a naive, country girl into a women who continues to have a strong mind, loyalty to her family, and dedication to those deserving of her compassion. However, Sam and Anthony are more like tools to move the story along when — in this case — a frame story would have been sufficient.
Sam and Anthony’s relationship seems to blossom away from the reader’s vision, and this could hamper the reader’s ability to connect with them. There are brief moments where they interact while reading the manuscript, but what goes on between them while they are reading — looks or brief touches — are not shown. It’s also hard to interpret Sam’s feelings for Stephen when all we have is her comments about their relationship and rarely see them interact. Additionally, the hunt for the manuscript seemed rushed, and should have had a bit more depth and twists and turns to make it more suspenseful and believable.
Overall, The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen by Syrie James is an enjoyable work about Jane Austen, historian’s thoughts about her work, and the mysteries that remain. But at the same time, it is about the interpretations of her novels in how the hero always must prove himself to the heroine to win her love and how change can sometimes be a blessing in disguise.
About the Author:
Syrie James is the bestselling author of eight critically acclaimed novels, including The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte, Nocturne, Dracula My Love, Forbidden, and The Harrison Duet: Songbird and Propositions. Her books have been translated into eighteen foreign languages.