Lily Berry has squeezed herself into undersized relationships all her life, hoping one might grow as large as those found in the Jane Austen novels she loves. Lily dreams of living in a novel. Mansfield Park, possibly. Escapism? Maybe. Her life is just coming a cropper. Everything in her life: her love story, her family. Who wouldn’t look for an escape? Lily has got few certainties in her life, among them Jane Austen and her bookish friend Vera. So she follows her to England and lives a summer adventure at Literature Live, a Jane Austen literary festival in which she tries to reinvent herself.
It will not be easy to escape, her problems seem to follow everywhere. You can change the setting and the actors in the novel of your life, but in the pursuit of happiness the first you need to change is yourself. This is what Lily learns. She learns more and more about herself, until final self -acceptance. Happiness can start only from there. Happiness can’t depend mainly on the others. You can’t go on repeating the same mistakes over and over. You must learn to be happy in the real world. Lily leads the reader in this journey of self – knowledge.
In her quest for happiness, Lily realizes she has been sad all her life: “ Even I didn’t understand my deep sadness , with me as long as I could remember. My earliest memories were of being sad, different from everybody else; perhaps the reason why I never fit in. Grave adn serious like Jane Eyre, or Catherine and Heathcliff, or Anna Karenina. I understood exactly how they felt, and nobody in real life shared that kind of pain with me” ( p.151)
She can “ only connect with people who are dead or fictional and can only be happy in places that exist in an author’s head”. Her best friend is … Jane Austen. She sees her everywhere, Jane follows Lily everywhere.
When she meets Willis, a deacon meant to become a priest soon (just like Edmund Bertram?) and writing a novel, she starts thinking happiness is not impossibile for her. For the first time in her life someone seems to really understand how she feels. “No one else had ever come close to understanding such thoughts. Not Martin (her ex boyfriend), not my friend Lisa, certainly not Karen (her sister), not even my mother (recently dead) ; no one but my Jane Austen. I felt so comfortable with this man …” ( p. 114)
But to find love has never been easy, nor simple, for an Austen heroine. Fanny Price had to wait until Edmund saw her behind the chimera of a Mary Crawford. Lily is ready to do the same with Willis. She will be loyal and patient, she will wait. But … will she be rewarded with love as, caring Fanny in Mansfield Park? In an unconventionally touching ending , Lily will discover that she can be deeply loved , she can live in a novel but also hope to be happy in real life.
What I especially liked in this novel is Cindy Jones’s wit and humour, her vivid style. While reading, you’ll be surprised at discovering Lily Berry’s world . It’s not simply a romance, but especially a book full of literary references , beautifully written , based on a character’s study which will not leave you indifferent.
Cindy Jones was born on Ohio and grew up in small midwestern towns, reading for escape. She is a winner of the Writer's League of Texas Manuscript Contest, and she lives with her family in Dallas. Other posts on Cindy Jones on My Jane Austen Book Club: An Interview with Lily Berry , Talking Jane Austen with Cindy Jones and Lily Berry.