Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life.
Before we go too far, let me just state I love Jane Austen. When I was 6 years old the BBC broadcast the now definitive version of Pride and Prejudice. From the moment I sat down that first Sunday evening to watch it with my mother I was hooked. I re-watched the series so many times I wore the tape out and as soon as I was old enough began reading the novels. Over the years I’ve also read a number of adaptation and spin-offs, some of which were excellent, others less so (thankfully none have been awful). So going into this book I knew they can be a bit of a mixed bag.
Where then does this book fall? I’d class it as a good average. We have the typical love story which draws heavily on the source material, in this case Pride and Prejudice (shocking I know given the title!), though Austen’s other novels do get a look in here and there as the inspiration for character names. However we also have a mystery which is part murder mystery, part treasure hunt. It is an interesting attempt to make the book stand out in a market saturated with Austen related books. It was an angle I certainly enjoyed though its by no means the most well executed mystery. I never felt the powerful grip of suspense where you fear what will happen next but can’t look away that one should feel when reading a mystery.
The novel flicks between the modern day, involving the main character Sophie, and 1796 where we meet a young Jane Austen as she is beginning to write First Impressions, the first draft of what would become Pride and Prejudice. It was these historic elements which I found the most enjoyable overall, reading about the albeit fictional struggles of Jane Austen as she commenced on her quest to become an author. There were some lovely scenes between Jane and her fictional mentor Rev. Mansfield discussing books, particularly Austen’s early attempts, which were enough to make me wish he were real. Though I’ll admit I also enjoyed the modern day love story involving Sophie and her suitors even if it was a tad predictable.
Overall it was an enjoyable read, perfectly suited to a bit of light summer reading. However if someone asked me to recommend an Austen adaptation or spin off it would be no means the top of my list either in terms of general Austen spin-offs nor as a Pride and Prejudice specific spin-off.