An Ode to Austen—Lizzy & Jane—Book Review

I have a thing for Jane Austen. 

My Jane-Austen-adaptation-only bookshelf.
My Jane-Austen-adaptation-only bookshelf.

I have to admit I discovered her through the 1995 Pride and Prejudice adaptation featuring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, and I’ve been in love with her ever since. I dove into the books and into other films. And then I began to collect sequels, prequels, modern reimaginings, essays, and the oddly tangential books to which her name (or more likely, Mr. Darcy’s name) was attached simply to sell a book to suckers like me. I must be nearing 100 books by now, as the photo of my Jane Austen shelves attests.

So when BookLook Bloggers offered me the opportunity to review Lizzy and Jane, by Katherine Reay, I was thrilled to add it to my collection.

I had read Reay’s previous book, Dear Mr. Knightly, and greatly enjoyed the story and its subtle homage to Austen’s Emma. Now I was ready for the same with Lizzy & Jane.

_225_350_Book.1428.coverReay in no way retells the Pride and Prejudice story. While Lizzy and Jane are sisters named for the books famous sisters, their relationship is not life imitating art. The sisters are estranged. Lizzy is a chef who has moved to the opposite coast and stays away from her family.

Jane’s breast cancer changes all that. The girls’ mother died of breast cancer, and her sickness and death are what drove the sisters apart to begin with. Reluctantly, Lizzy goes home for a rare visit, forced on her by the owner of her restaurant.

I began to read Lizzy & Jane days after going through genetic counseling to help me decide if I should be tested for the BRCA I and II genes that are connected to breast and ovarian cancer. So genetically inherited cancer’s star role in the book affected me on a deeper level, way beyond the Austen references woven into this work. If you, or a family member, or a friend is dealing with cancer and chemo, this book might give voice to your thoughts and fears and frustrations.

Reay does a superb job of developing flawed, totally human, characters. I honestly wasn’t sure I liked either of the sisters, but I couldn’t stop reading about their struggles, their relationship, and the jagged path to forgiveness.

This isn’t a romance book (although there is a romantic element). I would classify it as women’s fiction, along the lines of Elizabeth Berg or Adriana Trigiani. And if you’re a foodie, Lizzy’s cooking will have you salivating.

Looking forward to what Reay might do with the remaining four Austen novels.

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