Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Source: Review Copy from Publisher
Illicit liaisons, illegitimate children, sinister murders, scandalous secrets – things you would never associate with the Austen family, right? Can you imagine the quiet, country family from Hampshire embroiled with secrets of adultery and murder? Could you give any credence to the theory that Jane Austen’s death was not from natural causes?
Our protagonist, Anne Sharp, can! Twenty-six years after Jane Austen’s death, Anne (former governess to Fanny Knight) sends a lock of Jane’s hair to be scientifically examined. When the results show an abnormally high amount of arsenic in Jane Austen’s person at the time of her death, Anne must decide whether or not she wants to investigate the matter further. Should she share the private memoir she recorded of Jane Austen and their friendship? Should she expose the deep and dark secrets of the Austen family? Should she expose her own secrets?
Utterly fascinating! While at times, the theories presented in this novel were shocking and maybe a little far-fetched, I overall found this biographical fiction of Jane Austen’s life and death to be utterly fascinating! Selecting Anne Sharp to be the narrator and protagonist was a brilliant choice! I’ve always found Jane Austen’s friendship with her niece’s governess intriguing – Was it frowned upon by her family? Did it influence Jane Austen’s opinions and portrayals of governesses in her novels? It was a delight to see Jane Austen in the role of close friend, witness her actions and exchanges through Anne’s eyes, and comprehend Anne’s suspicions and opinions about the rest of the Austen family. In addition, I thought quite interesting (and daring) that the author portrayed Anne as concealing an unrequited passion for Jane Austen.
I adore stories like this that combine actual events and history with imagination and fiction. I enjoyed recognizing the references from Jane Austen’s letters and novels, following the Austens in their travels to Godmersham, Bath, Worthing, and Chawton, and becoming immersed in the “unknown” secrets of the Austen family! So much of the story felt credible and logical that I cannot help but wonder if Lindsay Ashford’s perceptive conjectures and plausible speculations are actually valid truths. SPOILER ALERT: I did feel some slight disappointment at the end when there was no definite confirmation of guilt or punishment of crimes, but I guess I do understand why Anne decided not to pursue justice and public vengeance.
The main reason I am giving this book 4.5 stars instead of 5 is because I felt it badly needed a “Fact or Fiction” appendix at the end of the book. There is an “Author’s Note” and it does recommend two well-known and informative biographies to readers who want to “dissect” the novel, but I really wish the author added a couple more paragraphs to the “Author’s Note” and elaborated more on what factual events triggered her imagination and extrapolation. Especially since many readers may not be inclined or able to immediately pick up the biographies referenced.
Sensational and stirring – The Mysterious Death of Miss Jane Austen has definitely piqued my curiosity and aroused my suspicions…Now, more so than ever, I’m dying to know the mysterious cause of Jane Austen’s death?!? And what about her relations…what really caused their deaths… I recommend this novel for inquisitive minds that want to delve into a presumably fictitious and thought-provoking tale of murder most sinister!