Wednesday, October 5, 2016
I had the very great pleasure of meeting the author of this first book after many years of corresponding (and even of more admiring her work) at this year's Jane Austen Festival in Bath. Jane Odiwe was just as lovely as I always knew she would be. In fact, all the Austenesque authors I met while in Bath seem exceptional people to know. Must be something about those of us who have Austen as a muse.
Ms. Odiwe, also a painter, seems to live a life inspired by Austen. No wonder she should be compelled to bring our dear authoress to life in her novels. Jane Austen Lives Again feels like the culmination of the journey Ms. Odiwe has been leading us on through her last few novels. In Searching for Captain Wentworth (read my review here) she took us through a portal to Regency Bath, where our heroine meets Jane Austen. In Project Darcy the heroine encounters the ghost of Tom Lefroy while staying at the Ashe Rectory near Steventon, triggering episodes in which she finds herself inhabiting Austen's body. Perhaps it was inevitable that Ms. Odiwe would next make Austen her heroine instead of a using a modern surrogate.
Jane Austen Lives Again is not really a time travel story. It's more of a Frankenstein story, though far less gothic. The time is 1925. Dr. Lyford, descendent of Jane's doctor during the illness that proceeded her death, has reanimated her, cured her, and taken quite a few years off her age at time of death in the process. Now determined to make her way in a new world, she gets a position as governess to Sir Albert and Lady Milton's five daughters, each of whom bears a resemblance to one of Austen's heroines. They live a rather bohemian lifestyle in their crumbing ancestral castle. Jane takes them in charge, of course. There is so much more to the story - romance, health complications, makeovers, wild motorcycle rides - but what stand out to me most of all is Ms. Odiwe's ability to write like she's painting. I've spoken of this is in probably all my reviews of her work, but it is fascinating to watch her capture this post-WWI world, which is so very different from the one she usually describes and so very incongruous from the one with which we usually associate Austen. I love this super vivid introduction of Lady Milton:
Lady Milton dragged on her cigarette holder and blew ring of smoke into the air. Her ankles were crossed, and as the scarlet Louis heeled slippers with pom-poms of swansdown tapped against the other in agitation, the kimono fell away from her knees to reveal pale shapely legs. Jane thought she must have been very beautiful once, and stared with fascination at her heavily made up face, powdered and rouged, with kohl-black eyes lined with paint.
We're in a whole new world! I can see Lady Milton liked she stepped off an old New Yorker cover.
Jane Austen Lives Again is perhaps my favorite of all the novels Ms. Odiwe has written to date. What a joy to view a different time and place through Austen's eyes, so skillfully rendered! Writing this review, I want to start rereading it and relive the adventures of Jane, along with her most interesting charges, Mae and Alice Milton, once more.