I was recently invited to read a free advanced reader copy of Katherine Reay’s latest novel, The Austen Escape. A few years ago, I read (and fell in love with) her debut novel, Dear Mr. Knightley (check out my review here). So, needless to say, I was excited about the opportunity.
About the Book
“Falling into the past will change their futures forever.
Mary Davies finds safety in her ordered and productive life. Working as an engineer, she genuinely enjoys her job and her colleagues—particularly a certain adorable and intelligent consultant. But something is missing. When Mary’s estranged childhood friend, Isabel Dwyer offers her a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in England, she reluctantly agrees in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways.
But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes she lives in Jane Austen’s Bath. While Isabel rests and delights in the leisure of a Regency lady, attended by other costume-clad guests, Mary uncovers startling truths about their shared past, who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who now stands between them.
Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings arise, and dancing ensues as this company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation, work out their lives and hearts.”
About the Author
Katherine Reay has lived all across the country and Europe and has enjoyed a life-long affair with the works of Jane Austen and her contemporaries. Katherine’s first novel, Dear Mr. Knightley, was a 2014 Christy Award Finalist and winner of the 2014 INSPY Award for Best Debut as well as Carol Awards for both Best Debut and Best Contemporary. She is also the writer behind Lizzy & Jane, The Bronte Plot, and A Portrait of Emily Price– all contemporary stories with a bit of “classics” flair. Katherine holds a B.A. and M.S. from Northwestern University and lives with her family in Chicago.
There is a section in the book when Mary is mentally comparing her first introduction to Jane Austen as a child to her reintroduction as an adult:
“Mom’s devotion to these novels made sense to me now. Jane understood people, and she was funny. Being an engineer, analytical and literal, I knew I was probably still missing nuances and subtleties and most of her brilliance, but what I caught was captivating.
She wrote with such precision that a single phrase evoked an emotional response. She elicited laughter, warmth, and even a sense of awe. Across two hundred years, I recognized her characters in the here and now. She wrote about people I knew.”
In a brilliant stroke of irony, this meta-review (it’s a review of Austen in a book about Austen) is pretty on par with how I feel about “The Austen Escape”.
The story is about two childhood-turned-adulthood friends, Mary and Isabel. As children, they were as much like family as their actual family. For Isabel (who has an emotionally distant father and a mother she doesn’t even remember), Mary’s family is her escape.
However, as adults, the pair have grown apart. Not in that definite ‘we’re not friends” way. More in that subtle, drifting-apart-yet-still-barely-connected way. So, when Isabel invites Mary to join her on an Austen-esque vacation in Bath, England, it takes her father’s cajoling to convince her to go.
The vacation is part-retreat, part-research as Isabel is using it to drum up content for her thesis. However, it soon transforms into something entirely different when Isabel loses her memory and believes they are all actually the Regency characters they are playing during the vacation. Add to that some romance, betrayal, secrets, and opportunities for growth and you have a story worth reading.
Right from the beginning, I found myself seeing people I knew in the characters – especially Mary. I found myself rooting for some and feeling angry at others. I choked back sobs, smiled through tears, laughed out loud, and whooped for joy. Much like Bastion in The Neverending Story, I felt as though I was right there, watching things unfold. And that, to me, is the best kind of feeling.
“The Austen Escape” was truly a literary escape. It made me rush to Google to see if Braithwaite Manor was really a place I could visit. (Just so you know, it is not, lol). It also made me rush to one of my bookshelves to retrieve my copy of “The Complete Works of Jane Austen” so that I could lose myself in that world as fully as Isabel had.
Once again, Katherine Reay has created a world that I am glad to have visited, populated with characters I have come to adore. It’s one of those stories that you will always wish you could read for the first time again, simply to relive the delicious feeling that comes with that experience. On a scale from “Please don’t waste your time” to “Buy it and cherish it forever”, this is solidly a “cherish it forever” book.
How to Order The Austen Escape
While supplies last, if you PREORDER the paperback or eBook by November 6th AND submit your receipt, you will receive a special edition bonus gift.
You can order your copy of The Austen Escape from any of the five booksellers below.