“Queasy as I was from the bumping carriage, with the stink of horse and mildew in my nose, with the gibbet and the meat pie and the innkeeper’s rudeness still vivid, the Jane Austen Project no longer seemed amazing. What I’d wanted so badly stretched like a prison sentence: wretched hygiene, endless pretending, physical danger. What had I been thinking?”
I’m so thoroughly pleased with this book. I hadn’t really heard much about it but was attracted by the title when browsing the library’s ebook catalogue. It’s an intriguing storyline, going back in time to retrieve (i.e. steal) a manuscript from Austen herself. One that wasn’t published in her time. Rachel and Liam are well prepared and well researched. Rachel is a doctor and has worked in disaster areas and Third World countries. But nothing could really prepare her for this.
But eventually, with mishaps often skirted by their use of their back story – that of a brother and sister who grew up in Jamaica and who have only for the first time stepped into England – they get used to life in the 18th century. It’s especially hard for Rachel – she’s the doctor but has to let Liam play the doctor (of course women couldn’t be doctors at the time). The plan is to befriend Henry Austen, Jane’s brother, and somehow weasel their way to Jane.
The chief danger of time travel, aside from the obvious physical risks to travelers themselves, was of somehow changing the past so as to decisively alter the future you’d come from, setting in motion some version of the grandfather paradox.
Time travel is always such a fascinating idea. What do their actions change, for example, the simple hiring of their staff, or when Rachel saves a young climbing boy from a horrendous future by paying his employer and letting him live in her household?
I wasn’t that big a fan of Rachel at first. She seemed a bit tactless at times but she eventually grew on me. I like the way Flynn brought the Austen family to life, especially Jane, sharp and intelligent, an acute observer initially wary of Rachel.
I tend to stay away from any Jane Austen spinoffs (if that’s the right word) but I really enjoyed this one. I mean of course every time travel story leads to many many questions and possibilities but I feel like Flynn handled it all really well.