Thursday, April 15, 2010

Book Review: According to Jane by Marilyn Brant

According To JaneIt begins one day in sophomore English class, just as Ellie Barnett's teacher is assigning Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice". From nowhere comes a quiet 'tsk' of displeasure. The target: Sam Blaine, the cute bad boy who's teasing Ellie mercilessly, just as he has since kindergarten. Entirely unbidden, as Jane might say, the author's ghost has taken up residence in Ellie's mind, and seems determined to stay there. Jane's wise and witty advice guides Ellie through the hell of adolescence and beyond, serving as the voice she trusts, usually far more than her own. Years and boyfriends come and go - sometimes a little too quickly, sometimes not nearly fast enough. But Jane's counsel is constant, and on the subject of Sam, quite insistent. Stay away, Jane demands. He is your Mr. Wickham. Still, everyone has something to learn about love - perhaps even Jane herself. And lately, the voice in Ellie's head is being drowned out by another, urging her to look beyond everything she thought she knew and seek out her very own, very unexpected, happy ending. -

Book Review by MaryS
ARC provided to MBB for review
Spoilers mentioned
It took me awhile to process my thoughts on Marilyn Brant's, According to Jane.  In fact, it took weeks.  Not because I didn't like it.  Not at all.  Pride and Prejudice happens to be one of my all-time favorite novels.  If asked "Which character do you most represent?" my first inclination is to say Elizabeth Bennett.  She is a woman with an incredible spirit; who lives and enjoys life with a strong moral fiber to guide her and a positive disposition to help her enjoy life's gifts.

So when I finished According to Jane, I couldn't help but compare Ellie to Elizabeth, Sam to Mr. Darcy.  And I was left wondering if it was even fair to try and put these characters into the Elizabeth-Darcy mold.  Was Ellie representative of our wonderful Elizabeth?  Can Sam fill the incredible shoes of my gallant and handsome Mr. Darcy?  If places were switched, would a modern day Elizabeth do the same things Ellie has done?

Ultimately, I found that Ellie did mirror Elizabeth in many ways.  I found myself enjoying her journey through life and her courage to trust in love and in hope.  In the story, we're taken on a ride through Ellie's life as she recounts her memories of high school, college and life afterwards.  Ellie has a distinct advantage over most of us - she's got Jane Austen in her mind to guide her through her trials and tribulations.

Fascinating!  Intriguing!  A very provocative concept.

I couldn't help but be fascinated at the idea of Jane Austen helping a modern young woman through life.  I was, however, a bit surprised at Jane's reaction and prejudices in the book.  This is the same Austen that showed us what "pride" and "prejudice" can do to a couple.  Is this why our Elizabeth nearly lost her darling Darcy?! 

But, Jane Austen's love and concern for Ellie were endearing.  I imagine she loved her Elizabeth as much as she loved Ellie.  In the end, I was still happy to see Ellie live her life to the fullest.  She loved honestly without games and without compromising her core values.  I loved that she didn't let her past dictate her present and future choices.  It reflected a strength and courage very reminiscent of Elizabeth Bennett.

As a woman practically in love with the concept of Mr. Darcy, I wish I could have seen more of Sam.  I didn't embrace him nearly as much as I did Mr. Darcy.  I thought the playfulness (or recklessness?) of youth was far too easy an excuse for Sam's hesitations toward commitment.  For me, many of the things he did were hurtful.  And when I think back to Mr. Darcy, I never felt that he intentionally went out of his way to egg on Elizabeth or hurt her.  It was difficult for me to sympathize with Sam for much of the book.  I would have enjoyed having his character fleshed out a little more to prove that he was worthy of Ellie.

Overall, a very good read.  I was immediately intrigued by the concept of Jane Austen living in someone's head.  Her novels live on today because many of us can relate to the very same problems introduced in her novels.  In many ways, through her characters and through her stories I can believe that Jane Austen DOES in fact live inside our heads, whispering her words of advice to many young women.  Thus is the power of literature.  :)

I gave this book 4 out of 5.

Please be sure to pick up your copy of According to Jane.  The book is available in our MBB Bookstore!

To learn more about Marilyn Brant, visit her online:

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  1. Great review. I enjoyed this book also when I read it last year. It was quite an impressive debut novel.

    I thought the Jane in her head concept interesting, but had not thought as deeply as you about comparing the Elizabeth/Darcy and Ellie/Sam relationships. I saw similarites like you, but the modern couple did not think like Lizzy and Darcy. Maybe that was Brant's point.

    Two hundred years and differnt societies give different viewpoints. I liked that Brant gave them new voices and we could see the Regency era opinions of Jane Austen told to Ellie and played off each other. I hope others discover this fun novel.

  2. Thanks for your comment Laurel Ann.
    I really enjoyed reading (and analyzing) this book! In the end, I really thought Ellie became a modern day version of Elizabeth. The society norms were different, but at their core the characters are very much alike.

    I hope others come to enjoy the novel as well!
    Stay tuned for the author interview. :)