Published by Text Publishing on October 2014
Genres: Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery/Thriller
Amazon • Amazon UK • Book Depository
Old books, young love and Jane Austen - a thrilling literary mystery from the New York Times bestselling author of The Bookman's Tale.
Book lover and Jane Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has just started working at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Their enquiries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten her life.
Interspersed with Sophie’s quest for the truth is the touching account of a young Jane Austen’s friendship with an ageing cleric, Richard Mansfield. Romantic, suspenseful and compelling, First Impressions is about love in all its forms and the joys of a life lived in books.
A good book is like a good friend. It will stay with you for the rest of your life. When you first get to know it, it will give you excitement and adventure, and years later it will provide you with comfort and familiarity. And best of all, you can share it with your children or your grandchildren or anyone you love enough to let into its secrets. – Charlie Lovett, First Impressions
Sophie has loved books all her life, sharing that love with her Uncle Bertram at his book-filled flat in London. When her Uncle dies and leaves everything to her, Sophie moves into the flat and begins working at an antiquarian bookshop, where she is drawn into a mystery involving the authorship of Jane Austen’s most beloved work, Pride and Prejudice. Did Jane Austen actually steal the story from another author? Besides that, are any of the men crowding into Sophie’s life to be trusted?
In the late eighteenth century, a young Jane Austen finds an unexpected friendship with an aging clergyman, Richard Mansfield. Their support of each other allows them to work together on literary projects, ultimately encouraging Jane to improve her work and invent new stories.
Even though many of the historical places and faces in First Impressions are based on actual facts and people, the major parts of this story are fictional. For example, the character of Mr Mansfield and his Little Book of Allegories is completely made up. I would love to think that an early draft of Pride and Prejudice was written in epistolary form (as a series of letters), but it seems even that’s just a rumour. In any case, Jane Austen’s sections of the story are delightful and reminded me of how much I love P&P and that I really need to read some of her other works. A few other reviewers have said they find it ridiculous and a little insulting to suggest that Jane was prompted into writing several of her most famous works by an old man she barely knew, but I think there’s a charm to the story.
Sophie’s chase to find Mansfield’s book in the present day was certainly gripping – I had trouble putting this one down because I needed to know what on earth Sophie could get into next! I think the main thing that annoyed me about the present day story was that Sophie kept jumping to these strange conclusions, and that the conclusions happened to be correct. I appreciate that if she had been led off on wild goose chases like real mystery-solving involves then the book would have ended up a lot longer, but she just happens to get it right every time. I also didn’t particularly like the romantic aspect of the story. The men in Sophie’s life are regrettably transparent and I was sad when I wasn’t surprised by how it all turned out at the end.
Although Sophie’s judgement of character isn’t great, her love of books is just lovely. Bibliophiles are sure to identify with the primal need to collect books. The idea of a whole flat lined with bookshelves is just my idea of heaven to be honest, even if there aren’t that many antique books here in Australia to collect. I’m not sure how she managed to stay out of jail by the end with the number of criminal activities she jumped into but it was all for a great cause – making sure Jane Austen didn’t fall into scandal.
To be honest, I loved the parts of this book that dealt with the actual processes of reading, writing and book collecting far more than the actual story itself. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t blow me away.
– Bibliophiles and especially Jane Austen lovers will enjoy this stand-alone book, although hard-core Austen fans may be turned off by the fictional aspects of her side of the story.