“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.
After years of following her best friend’s lead, Mary Davies finds a whimsical trip back to Austen’s Regency England paves the way towards a new future.
Mary Davies lives and works in Austin, Texas, as an industrial engineer. She has an orderly and productive life, a job and colleagues that she enjoys—particularly a certain adorable, intelligent, and hilarious consultant. But something is missing for Mary. When her estranged and emotionally fragile childhood friend Isabel Dwyer offers Mary a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in Bath, Mary reluctantly agrees to come along, 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 that she lives in Regency England. Mary becomes dependent on a household of strangers to take care of Isabel until she wakes up.
With Mary in charge and surrounded by new friends, Isabel rests and enjoys the leisure of a Regency lady. But life gets even more complicated when Mary makes the discovery that her life and Isabel’s have intersected in more ways that she knew, and she finds herself caught between who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who stands between them. Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this triangle works out their lives and hearts among a company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation.
Although I’ve enjoyed other books by this author, The Austen Escape never particularly grabbed me. It’s very reminiscent of Austenland, although here, the Austen experience isn’t played for laughs. Instead, it’s a luxurious retreat for people of means, a chance to live in Austen’s world. The guests dress up, have dinner gatherings, dance, ride, and are treated as esteemed guests. They’re encouraged, but not required, to adopt the personae of Austen’s characters, although the point of this is a little lost on me. Maybe it’s the execution, but I couldn’t particularly see how it mattered if one guest was supposed to be Emma Woodhouse and another Catherine Morland. None of them enacted enough of their characters’ stories or personalities to make a difference.
The key issue for me is that Mary, the main character, never actually gelled for me. I liked (adored) that the lead female here is an engineer, a tech superstar with a drive to succeed and a brain that thinks of the world in scientific terms at all times. That’s really awesome, truly. But (yes, there’s a but), Mary didn’t click for me as a person. We get a lot of explanation, but I didn’t quite see what her issues are. Why is she hesitant to pursue (or accept pursuit from) the man she likes? Why has she never traveled? How does she feel about Isabel’s presence in her life, and why has never addressed this before now?
The synopsis is a little deceptive too. Isabel doesn’t get conked on the head and lose her memory — instead (minor spoiler) she has a sort of nervous break from reality after an emotional blow, and her doctor from home advises Mary to keep an eye on Isabel, play along, and wait for her to snap out of it. I’m sorry, but this seems like terrible advice.
The Austen escape — the luxury vacation — does seem pretty amazing, but even there, I’m not sure in truth how much fun it would be. There are only five other guests when Mary and Isobel arrive, and the options for a true Austen adventure, with socializing and balls and fancy dinner, seems very limited. I think I would have been bored silly within about 48 hours.
The story itself held my attention, and I read the entire book in about a day and a half. It’s a fun read, but the lack of connection to the main character makes this a book that I can finish and not look back at. All in all, I’d say The Austen Escape is enjoyable light entertainment, but on the deeper, emotional level the author seems to be aiming for, it just doesn’t work.
Title: The Austen Escape
Author: Katherine Reay
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Publication date: November 7, 2017
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley