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Saturday, 27 March 2010

Review - I was Jane Austen's best friend, A Secret diary by Cora Harrison

Publisher: Macmillan

Publication date: March 2010

Pages: 340

I was Jane Austen's best friend is a fictitious story by Harrison about Austen's teenage years and family life. The main character, the sweet, endearing Jenny Cooper is Jane's cousin, orphaned and sent to live in a boarding school in Southampton with Jane. The girls hate living at the school but make the best of it, until Jane becomes ill, and early in the book Jenny is forced to risk her prospects and reputation to save her friend.

The Austen's quickly realise the boarding school is not suitable for either of the girls and they return to the family home, a parsonage in Steventon to be educated. For Jenny this means living for the first time amongst boys - Jane's five brothers and Mr Austen's male pupils, experiencing social occasions like balls for the first time and writing all about it in her secret diary.

Jenny's is a shy and timid character, quite the opposite to Jane who is very confident and as you would expect, always coming up with entertaining stories and jokes that keep everyone amused. The book is Jenny's story of the journey from child to young woman, with some heartwarming moments and shocking twists along the way.

Harrison really opens up what it would have been like to be a young woman growing up without a fortune in the 18th Century. The relationships she develops between Jane and her brothers were so realistic and the exchange between them written with humour and warmth. At the end of the book the author explains that the extracts of stories she included written by Jane were real, as were all of her family members, their personalities and the families living around them. However, the events were of her creation because Austen left very little record of her teenage years. Where Harrison has filled in the blanks, it is done so cleverly and intuitively. A true Austen fan!

A charming, heartwarming, emotional and clever read - loved it!