Updated: Sep 1, 2020
When I first saw the title of this book, I knew it was one I had to read. A modern-day Jane Austen novel, set in my very own hometown? Yup, totally gonna eat that up. And I did. From the opening chapter to the satisfying ending, I gobbled up Jane of Austin like it was a piece of my favorite chocolate flourless cake. It’s very rare to find a good Jane Austen fanfiction these days, and even rarer to find a modern-day adaptation that works and doesn’t feel cheesy, but Hillary Manton Lodge hit the nail on the head 100%. The plot follows the basic storyline of Sense and Sensibility, and Hillary perfectly scripted each character archetype and major plot element so smoothly in the present-day context, you would have thought that Jane Austen had been reincarnated as her.
As a native of Austin, I always thought that the names “Barton Park” and “Barton Cottage” in Sense and Sensibility reminded me of our local Barton Creek. So when her first parallel was to take those places and make them into a mansion with a guesthouse situated in the Barton Creek neighborhood, my excitement began to tingle. But it didn’t end there; she went on to name so many of my favorite locales, from Amy’s Ice Cream to Torchy’s Tacos, and even had her characters go on a date at the Driskill Hotel, where I’ve performed my harp for many weddings! I loved that she kept all the major plot elements intact, putting the appropriate modern spin, as it made it so much easier to track what was happening and predict what might come next. For example, she turned the London Season into the famed South by Southwest festival- a perfect analogy, since it’s when all our fashionable elite come to town by the thousands to participate in the spectacle.
And then there are the characters. The Dashwood sisters were renamed as the Woodwards: Elinor became Celia, a sweet and pragmatic accountant, Marianne is now Jane, a vivacious girl with a passion for tea and music, and Margaret simplified to Margot, a teen who loves ballet and social media. The story is told from two voices: Jane’s voice being one, the other being that of ex-Marine Callum Beckett, the modern-day counterpart to Colonel Brandon. I loved seeing the story take place from each of their unique viewpoints. It gives it a very refreshing change from the third-person narrative of Sense and Sensibility, and makes me love the characters even more. The other characters in the story also get slight name changes that make a play on their original names. John and Fanny Dashwood become Jonathan “Jon” and Phoebe, and Lucy Steele morphs into Lyndsay Stahl. The Palmers got to keep their last name, but their first names became Charlie and Pierce. John Willoughby becomes the man-candy Sean Willis, complete with rockstar status, jeans, pickup truck, and a cowboy hat. When he rescues the girls on the highway after their trailer hitch breaks, and turns out to be their new neighbor, it’s easy to see how Jane becomes smitten with him, much as Marianne had with her Willoughby. But Callum Beckett is my favorite character. If you thought Colonel Brandon was sexy, this is Colonel Brandon on steroids! He’s a war hero with PTSD and a ton of emotional baggage. He’s lost a leg even. But none of that does anything to detract from how awesome this guy is. He swims alone at night, one-legged, he saves Jane from drowning, carries her back, in the dark, for miles, with no flashlight, not caring about reinjuring his amputated leg- I mean, I can’t get over how hot this guy is!! No pictures needed, he’s the definition of hunky, heroic, and heart of gold all rolled into one.
The narrative that Hillary Manton Lodge spins for these characters is full of beautiful, poetic language, plenty of romantic moments, and, if that weren’t enough, she starts each chapter with a beautiful quote about tea or Texas and ends each with a recipe from the book. I would definitely recommend Jane of Austin to anyone who loves Sense and Sensibility, likes a good romance book, or hails from the great state of Texas.