This week has been a week full of free time – I’m waiting around in the jury selection phase of jury duty. I’m not going to go into it, but let’s just say I’ve had HOURS AND HOURS of reading time this week (and it’s not over).
This was a book recommended to me in the comments of my Forgotten Treasure post for Book Blogger Appreciation Week. I had recommended a Jane Austen retelling, Pride, Prejudice, and Jasmine Field and Emily mentioned loving The Family Fortune. I already ordered it from paperbackswap, but I was almost done with the book I had brought to Jury Duty, so I went to the library (conveniently next door to the court house) and picked it up there too.
This is my 2nd review for the Everything Austen II challenge
The Premise: This is a modern day retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, that centers on Jane Fortune, member of an upper-crust Bostonian family that has just realized that it is broke. Jane’s father Teddy, and her sister Miranda flit from party to party, and indulge themselves often. Jane’s married sister Winnie, is an attention-seeking, lazy hypochondriac. And Jane is of course, the sensible one, who spends her time working on her literary journal, The Euphemia Review and giving grants to up-and-coming writers through the Fortune Family Foundation, which she runs. Years ago, Jane met and almost married struggling writer, Max Wellman, the first person to win a grant. Family friend Priscilla and her father intervened and it never happened. Now Jane is a 38-year-old woman who feels spinsterhood beginning to settle around her, while Max is a well-known literary heart-throb, and of course, their paths cross once again.
My Thoughts: This is Persuasion in a high society, high literary setting. There’s always the underlying knowledge of how people should act within Jane’s circles. In this aspect it mirrors Jane Austen in regard to the societal mores of the wealthy very well. The literary journal, The Euphemia Review, and Jane’s friendships with critically acclaimed writers and her “genius for finding genius” feels like another facet in this lifestyle. Like her family name, Jane has some clout in the literary world. This book is told from Jane’s first person point of view, and it’s suggested that The Family Fortune comes from Jane’s journals. Her literary fiction background feels reflected in the language of the book.
When this book first begins, Jane is a creature of steadiness and routine. Jane admits to wearing dark, shapeless clothes and not caring about her appearance. This life is a little drab and depressing, but when she discovers that it’s her old flame may be coming to the area because his sister is renting the Fortune home, a little reevaluation happens, and Jane starts to change for the better. Jane discovers a new literary talent in a writer named Jack Reilly, and becomes a little obsessed with finding him. She begins to pay attention to her appearance. She realizes she does have outside respect for her work with her family’s foundation and her literary work, but she also looks for things to do with her life besides The Euphemia Review. Much of the focus is on what Jane is doing and what friends and family she sees as she goes about her life, but we are aware as she is, of looking out from the corner of her eye for Max Wellman.
Max appears first when Jane’s father and sister go off to Palm Beach for the winter. Jane went to visit her sister Winnie, and runs into Max, who is a friend of Winnie’s husband, Charlie. Jane retells their back story and we see her reaction to seeing him again. Of course her feelings are still strong, and she thinks Max is as handsome and charismatic as he ever was, except now everyone else sees him as successful too, while she is the same sensible, reliable Jane. Max is a character I feel like we don’t see much of, even though he is the hero. He appears, and Jane reacts internally and we know she still loves him after all these years, but we have to rely on her side of the romance with little clue about him. What we see of his feelings has to be gleaned through Jane’s description of his expressions. I would have liked to see more from his side of things in this book, particularly in the ending.
There are a lot of secondary characters in this story, but Jane is definitely the main one. Even Max as I said above is like a secondary character. There’s first Jane’s family, and Priscilla, the family friend, then later on we meet characters that represent the Louisa Musgrove, Mrs. Clay, Captain Benwick, and Mr. Elliot characters. These characters mirror the Austen characters very well, at least in spirit. I thought that the modern day representation of Mrs. Clay was well done, and the Mr. Elliot character here took creepily manipulative to new levels (he started benign, but by the end of it he made my, and no doubt Jane’s, skin crawl) . Outside of these characters, there are other secondary characters which (I think) are original to this retelling. Most of these “new” characters are related to Jane’s work with literary fiction.
After I was done, I think I had two problems with the book. I think that these problems are in comparing Jane to Anne Elliot and Max to Captain Wentworth. First Jane. Next to her father and her sisters, Jane is the least self-absorbed, but because the story is told from Jane’s point of view, there are times when she notes things in others that cast her in a mean light. I realize it’s so that the reader can see her family for the people they are, but I don’t recall Anne Elliot in Persuasion as being someone who lists the faults in others. That was reserved for the third person narrator. So when Jane says for example “Miranda’s face was lined with excessive sun exposure. She should know better.” or that someone needed to “take care of the dark roots in an otherwise brassy head of hair”, it only makes her seem secretly as shallow as the rest of her family. I didn’t like this side of her. She also gets drunk and does something in this story I didn’t think Anne Elliot would do. Max on the other hand was much more of a playboy than I considered Captain Wentworth to be. Maybe I have too high moral expectations of two of my favorite characters but I thought his character was a little disappointing in this regard. This is something that falls under personal taste.
Overall: I think this is definitely to be recommended for that niche of people who love a good Jane Austen retelling, but are OK with an Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth who are not as pure as the original. I think that I have my particular standards of what my favorite characters should be like and this book doesn’t quite fit them (I found Jane a little unkind sometimes in her descriptions, Max a little too much of a playboy), so in the end I wasn’t completely satisfied. I still want to keep a copy of this book around though. While I had qualms about Jane/Max (YMMV), the upper crust Boston and high literary societies were unique spins on the society found in Persuasion, and the commentary and many details of the original are well reflected here.