Published by Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date: December 31st 2012
The world of classics is divided between those who think the works of Jane Austen contain all the answers to life and those who deride her books as fluff. I fall somewhere in the middle. I always enjoy her books but do not view them as sacrosanct and do feel they are thematically a bit repetitive. This then, leaves me open to the many works written by contemporary authors, based on Austen’s characters or life. A true Austen scholar finds this sort of thing to be a sacrilege. Not me, and my latest foray into the land of Austen was another success with Syrie James’ The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen. James’ protagonist Samantha McDonough is an Austen scholar so the story is peppered with interesting Austenalia and also gives a bit more insight into her writing. At the same time, it is a mystery that involves a missing book and an ancestral home about to be put up for sale. McDonough discovers a letter written by Jane Austen to her sister in which she alludes to a work she wrote long ago but lost. For any bibliophile this is a promising beginning. A missing manuscript by a much loved author? Fabulous!
It is an odd feeling then that the pace of the action is such that by page 55 the mystery has been solved and the missing manuscript has been found. Don’t fret or curse me, it’s just the beginning, as James then channels Austen and readers have a chance to read a novel within a novel. This manuscript is entitled The Stanhopes and is the story of Rebecca Stanhope and her beleaguered father, once a vicar and now disgraced and penniless. There are cads, gossip, loving friends, and adventures aplenty. The story is captivating and James is able to echo Austen’s style to a degree that makes the book charming and welcome—like an old friend.
Interspersed with the Austen book is the contemporary story of McDonough and what becomes of the manuscript. Of course, there is a man involved and conflicting emotions but it plays well against the background of the Austen world. James writes in the voice of Austen but portrays her style in the larger story. The Missing Manuscript is welcome entertainment for the dreary winter months.