First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen
Charlie Lovett has a fascination with books that runs very clearly through his own novels. His is the kind of love that bibliophiles will recognize: the paper on which the words are printed, the heft and weight of the book, the fonts, the pictures and, of course, the characters and stories that live inside all those manufactured bits. FIRST IMPRESSIONS takes a page from the Jane Austen playbook and runs with it --- in two centuries, no less. Lovett's combination of mystery, intrigue, love and books makes for a unique and compelling narrative that every booklover will appreciate.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS has two story lines: the friendship between Jane Austen and an older man of the cloth in 1796, and a love story set in contemporary worlds starring Sophie Collingwood, a young scholar fresh out of Oxford. Sophie loves and respects her uncle Bertram, who has been her mentor in the world of old books, but despises her own father. When Bertram is offed, Sophie’s world crumples around her, leaving her only with her still-intact love of all things literary. Eventually, she is caught between two different young men. The first is an American who, of course, is all rough-and-tumble and perhaps not well-suited to such a lovely and serious young lady. The second is Winston Godfrey, a British suitor who has no fear and seems very much like a man the Miss Dashwoods of SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (the book Jane is writing in this novel) would find quite amusing and worthy of their attention. Richard Mansfield, who becomes her new mentor, is a kind man, a retired priest who shares her interest in the world-at-large.
"FIRST IMPRESSIONS takes a page from the Jane Austen playbook and runs with it --- in two centuries, no less. Lovett's combination of mystery, intrigue, love and books makes for a unique and compelling narrative that every booklover will appreciate."
The 1796 section celebrates Jane Austen, a mere 20 years old, and the man who appreciated her irreverent and ambitious nature, not a normal personality trait amongst young ladies of her stature in the world into which she was born. This is a make-believe relationship, a fiction that nonetheless helps us to see deeper into the young woman whose brilliant observations have made such an indelible mark on world literature and always will. Jane is working on her first draft of Elinor and Marianne, which eventually will become SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, and Mansfield’s friendship provides her with the support that helps her mature into a working author.
The present-day story revolves around Sophie’s solving a mystery that begins when two customers come to her in the antiquarian bookstore where she recently has begun working. They both want a copy of a book called A Little Book of Allegories --- not to give anything away, let’s just say that their questions lead Sophie to look into who the real author of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE was (it may NOT have been Jane?). At the same time, she is choosing between her rugged American academic and the sophisticated dashing Englishman who both vie for her affections. Will she solve the mystery of the book and the mystery of her heart before her life is threatened by her inquiries and associations? FIRST IMPRESSIONS wants you to stick with her while all-around Sophie craziness ensues.
Lovett writes the book with an eye towards the most romantic aspects of Austen’s work, as well as the ins and outs of a contemporary thriller. From the charming watercolor drawing on the cover to the last word on the final page, FIRST IMPRESSIONS is an enticing novel for all book enthusiasts. No matter what your genre of choice is, you will find something here to amuse you --- humor, romance, mystery, thrills and chills, as well as history, both world and literary. Lovett’s work is a fantastic combination of all the things that make reading a fun adventure, a great pick for cocoa and a fire on a cold winter’s day. Enjoy!
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on December 5, 2014