Received a copy of First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen by Charlie Lovett through the First Reads Giveaway program in exchange for an honest review
" 'That's the beauty of rare books,' he had said one evening when he was reading a first edition of Cecilia. 'If you mail a rare stamp it becomes worthless. If you drink a rare bottle of wine, you're left with some recycling. But if you read a rare book it's still there, it's still valuable, and it's achieved the full measure of its being. A book is to be read, whether it's worth five pounds or five thousand pounds.' "
Without being out of this world and supernatural, this book exposes the magic that people and literature can bring to a person's world that at points has become dull, conflicted and wrought with confusion. In Oxfordshire Sophie Collingwood has recently graduated from her five-year master's degree program at Oxford and is now contemplating her career path as she finds herself answering the dreaded, but all too necessary of question's of what to do with the rest of her life? Big decision, right? Well after analyzing her surroundings and life's recent events she decides her next move will be to travel to London where she can go to the place that at many points in her life has opened her mind and has given her great comfort. To say Sophie is a voracious reader would be an understatement to say the least, and to say Sophie is a fan of Jane Austen would again be putting it mildly. As she tip-toes between the realities of a student to that of life in the real world she will be forced to answer some very important questions about the past, the present, and the future, and she will use her life's most valued resources to help her through it.
"When she read Jane Austen, Sophie felt transported back two hundred years and found herself in a place and time she loved to inhabit-attending balls, talking walks in the countryside, paying visits, all in the company of witty and charming heroines. Reading Richard Mansfield, she found herself in the same era yet in the company of people so dull they would pay actual money to own and read these dreadful stories.It made her want to run screaming back to the present. How could two such different authors, united by a desire to write fiction, both represent the same world?"
Some people have a habit of using prejudices to fully flesh out a person's character before they have even said "boo" and have acknowledged each other. What you don't realize is that these judgments based on a complete misunderstanding of a stranger may prohibit a person from meeting someone that could possibly change your life or perhaps even complete it to some degree. Young Jane of Steventon, Hampshire uses first impressions to complete characters and embellish their stories so that they may be of service to her at a later time. When faced with the reality that for the first time in her life her impression was wrong, she begins to wonder what else she has missed along the way.
This book is a dual narrative focusing on young Sophie in present day Oxfordshire, and young Jane in 1796 Hampshire. Sophie is dealing with the recent death of her beloved uncle and fellow bookworm Bertram. In truth Sophie and Bertram shared a great bond that used the beauty of books as their foundation on which to build their relationship. Over time Bertram became her rock, her person to turn too when life was becoming difficult. Being in London, Sophie would countdown the hours, the minutes, the seconds until she would be able to spend the weekend immersed in Bertram's literary nirvana. As a child she longed for mystery and adventure that her own father couldn't provide but one in which Bertram could bring at the first step to the bountiful shelves and the crack of a binding. Sophie viewed him as her true father figure and was distraught knowing that she would never be able to see him again especially as she has met a crossroads in her life.
" 'I hope you will come to believe so, Mr. Mansfield. I have been accused of having many faults by those who know me well, but neither dullness nor impetuousness has been among them.'
'And what faults do they accuse you of?'
'My worst, or so am I told, are a too highly developed interest in fictionalizing my acquaintances and a tendency to form opinions of others hastily.'
'Opinions such as the one you formed of me when you saw me alone with my book?'
'You do me wrong, sir. You assume first that I saw you, second that I gave your appearance sufficient thought to form an opinion, and third that my opinion was ill considered.' "
For young Jane what starts as a beautiful friendship may never have happened at all if it weren't for a suggested meeting of a stranger from Yorkshire at St.Nicholas church. Jane is a twenty-year-old aspiring author who is continually improving her writing style and fine-tuning her approach. When she meets eighty-year-old Reverend Richard Mansfield they both quickly realize that there is more than meets the eye. She entrusts him with her work, he insists that she has great promise, but needs more effort if she wants her work to avoid being labeled a generational talent and work on becoming a talent that produces timeless pieces of art.
This is a story about love, friendship, rare books, literary discovery, and the fulfillment of a life's promise while providing legitimacy to that of another. As much as Jane Austen fans will appreciate this story, and as much of a novice as I am with respects to her catalogue, this story was most certainly not lost on me. It was very compelling from beginning to end as people from vastly different eras with different gender expectations share in their love for stories, adventure, life, mystery, and people. Having a book consistent with a dual narrative between eighteenth century and present day and containing the random epistolary, which was frowned upon within the book might I add, maintained a great deal of interest and a necessary alteration in the point of view. I will admit that this book will probably be more appreciated by women with all of the coy back and forth between star crossed love birds, and the effervescent beauty of the dialogue between characters. This book was so cozy that it almost made me travel the distance to go to the grocery store to get tiny marshmallows for my hot chocolate. Fluff would just have to suffice, DAMN!!! Maybe it's my lack of exposure to this type of novel, maybe it's the feeling that I had after reading something a little different, maybe it was the author's ability to plant the reader in eighteenth century England, maybe it's my ignorance to all things Jane Austen, but I happened to enjoy the change of pace that this book provided. Now, I won't be going out making it a habit reading this type of story, I don't think my face or blood flow could take it, in my case viscosity leads to breakdown, but I have realized that I should throw a few in the rotation to help keeping me sharp and optimistic.
"Jane could not think how to explain to Cassandra the intimacy of her relationship with Mr.Mansfield, or the depth of her desire to be alone with him once more. It had nothing to with romance but everything to do with love. She had found in him a mind so in sympathy with her own that when the two of them were together there seemed to be no one else in the world. If she could, she hoped to experience that feeling once more."