Twenty-six years have passed since the death of Jane Austen, and Anne Sharp, former governess to the Austen family and Jane’s close friend, has decided at last to tell her story—a story of family intrigues, shocking secrets, forbidden loves, and maybe even murder…
Upon it’s publication in the UK, Lindsay Ashford’s fictional interpretation of the few facts surrounding Jane Austen’s mysterious death sparked an international debate and uproar. None of the medical theories offers a satisfactory explanation for Jane Austen’s early demise at the age of forty-one. Could it be that what everyone has assumed was a death by natural causes was actually more sinister? Lindsay Ashford’s vivid novel delves deep into Jane’s world and puts forth a shocking suggestion—was someone out to silence Jane? (taken from the back of the arc)
Title: The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen, Author: Lindsay Ashford, ISBN: 978-1-4022-8212-6, Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark, Format: Trade Paperback $14.99, Release Date: August 2013, How I Read It: Trade Paperback ARC from Publishers, Rating: 4 Crowns
Composed in memoir format, the book opens with Anne Sharp recording a letter that she received from Doctor Zechariah Sillar saying that the hair he tested (which belonged to Jane Austen) had large quantities of arsenic (fifteen times more than observed in the body’s natural state) and that Miss Austen was internationally poisoned. Prompted by this discovery, and an invitation to contribute to a memoir Jane Austen’s nephew is compiling, Anne Sharp decides to write her own private memoir of her dear friend and the events she believes led to her murder.
As the memoir unfolds, we see Jane Austen and her large family through the eyes of the governess-turned-friend. Not only does she record the Austen family dynamics, she records her suspicions that Henry Austen is having an affair, which she later believes was the catalyst of Jane’s murder.
I have been trying to get my hands on this book ever since it was first released in 2011 and had been unable to find it. So, when Sourcebooks Landmark offered the book for review, I jumped at the chance to review it. In fact, I was so eager to read it that I read it the same day the postman delivered it.
The opening of the book, when Anne receives the positive results of the Marsh Test, had me hooked with its promise of a magnificent mystery to follow. I had thought that the entire book was going to focus on Jane’s death from the start. Although before the seeds of mystery can germinate, the author needed to establish a friendship between Jane Austen and Anne Sharp and while the friendship aids the plot, the subplot of Anne falling in love with Jane occasionally overtook the main plot dragging down the pace. And to me some of Anne’s ramblings felt a bit obsessive as she spoke about her unrequited love. Yet the author was quick to start the beginning of the mystery by having Anne discover scandalizing information about Henry Austen.
While I loved the novel, I felt that some parts rambled on while others stopped almost as soon as they began. I also wished that the mystery had been a bit more had to figure out as I knew the who, what, and why fairly early on. Anne’s unrequited love Jane was also blatantly obvious from the first chapter, and as I said previously, it could have been toned down a bit as it came off as mildly obsessive and occasionally dominated (and slowed) the plot.
Overall, Lindsay Ashford truly brought the Austen’s to life in a web of mystery, intrigue, secrets, adultery, and murder. The writing was so rich and descriptive it was almost as if I was observing their daily activities and getting to know Jane Austen personally rather than just reading a mystery novel. I was so enthralled with this book that I could not put it down.
I think that readers will be very pleased with The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen and fans of Jane Austen will be superbly delighted.
Visit Angela @ Addicted to Jane Austen