Monday, February 12, 2018

The Austen Escape- Katherine Reay

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

Description: After years of following her best friend’s lead, Mary Davies finds a whimsical trip back to Austen’s Regency England paves the way towards a new future.

Mary Davies lives and works in Austin, Texas, as an industrial engineer. She has an orderly and productive life, a job and colleagues that she enjoys—particularly a certain adorable, intelligent, and hilarious consultant. But something is missing for Mary. When her estranged and emotionally fragile childhood friend Isabel Dwyer offers Mary a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in Bath, Mary reluctantly agrees to come along, in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways. But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes that she lives in Regency England. Mary becomes dependent on a household of strangers to take care of Isabel until she wakes up.

With Mary in charge and surrounded by new friends, Isabel rests and enjoys the leisure of a Regency lady. But life gets even more complicated when Mary makes the discovery that her life and Isabel’s have intersected in more ways that she knew, and she finds herself caught between who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who stands between them. Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this triangle works out their lives and hearts among a company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation.

My Thoughts: This is my first read by Katherine Reay and though I have seen her other novels around, I have never been a fan of Jane Austen, so I have not pick up any of Reay's work. However, this year, I was given this book as part of a Christmas pack meant to allow me to review outside my typical comfort zone.

At first, I found it really difficult to get into the story. With Austen in the title, I expected romance and initially it appeared as though there would be none. Lucky, a romantic subplot eventually did make an appearance. Beyond that, Mary's attitude toward the place in which she and Isabel stayed, along with Isabel's attitude altogether, was something that I had difficulty swallowing. Not only did Mary fight much of the role play inherent in the trip, but she also treated the history of the house as something infinitely sad for what had been lost from it rather than respecting what had been preserved. This perspective set a melancholy tone that was reinforced by her and Isabel's refusal to let go of their own pasts, ultimately casting Isabel as someone who I could not like.

However, things did improve toward the middle of the book. At that point, Isabel had lost her memory and was a genuinely (or maybe artificially?) sweet character and a lot of the other side characters brought life to the retreat and role play in which Mary was dragging her heels. As well, the romantic plot had picked up. My interest in the story remained steady at that point, even through the end, despite my believing that certain issues had been too easily solved.

Though I do not know a whole lot about Austen, I recognize some of the relational drama that was present in the few stories that I have been exposed to. And for those who have previously enjoyed Reay's work, I believe that this read would still be appreciated.

I have provided an honest review after receiving a copy of the book through The Fiction Guild.

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