The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay comes out tomorrow, November 7th, and is a fun escapist read along the lines of Austenland, though slightly less full of secondhand embarrassment. Actually, there’s dramatically less secondhand embarrassment. However, there’s still the cringe-worthy obliviousness to the love interest’s… well, interest. There’s also a weird friendship dynamic that I think I may not be understanding as well as I would if I’d read Northanger Abbey in the last decade. Anyway, let’s jump in!
This book is basically about two sort of estranged best friends, Mary and Isabel, who take a trip to Bath and stay in an immersive converted manor house where you dress up like characters from Jane Austen’s novels. However, before you ever get to Bath, we begin with Mary and her job at WATT, where she’s some kind of engineer or inventor. I’m still a little confused about her job. Mary is crushing hard on Nathan, a consultant working with WATT for some reason, but she’s struggling with the new CEO who doesn’t understand how WATT works. She winds up taking a two week vacation to go with Isabel to Bath and Isabel has this dissociative episode and really thinks she’s Emma from Emma. While in Bath, things come to a head with their friendship and the competitive edge that underlies the love they have for one another.
If this summary seemed a little disjointed, that’s honestly how the book seemed. Mary and Nathan really carry this story because the relationship between Mary and Isabel isn’t fully fleshed out enough for the friendship arc to be the star. I’m not sure it’s been apparent, but I adore female friendship, so the fact that Mary and Isabel have this sort of toxic friendship bothered me. I point that out just to say that the fact that I didn’t feel like their dynamic was fully fleshed out may have been influenced by my dislike of toxic female friendships.
I also felt like the main character, Mary, seemed a little all over the place in terms of personality traits. Also, I really feel like the book would have benefited from not being about the place in Bath and have just explored WATT and Isabel and Mary’s friendship in Texas.
All of that said, I really enjoyed Mary and Nathan’s story. I thought they carried the story well. I also enjoyed many of the side characters from Mary and Isabel’s time in Bath, like Grant, who is adorably dreamy. All in all, I couldn’t decide how the book balanced out so I’ve changed my rating three times and I think I’m going with a 3. Maybe a 3.5?
I think if you’re really obsessed with Austen or if you really enjoyed Austenland, this book could definitely be right up your alley! And if you’re starved for women main characters in STEM fields, Mary is perfect for you.
Thanks, of course, to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book in advance of it’s release.