Thursday, 30 October 2014


Charlie Lovett first delighted readers with his New York Times bestselling debut, The Bookman’s Tale. Now, Lovett weaves another brilliantly imagined mystery, this time featuring one of English literature’s most popular and beloved authors: Jane Austen.

Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true
authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life.

In a dual narrative that alternates between Sophie’s quest to uncover the truth—while choosing between two suitors—and a young Jane Austen’s touching friendship with the aging cleric Richard Mansfield, Lovett weaves a romantic, suspenseful, and utterly compelling novel about love in all its forms and the joys of a life lived in books.

About the author:

Charlie Lovett is a former antiquarian bookseller, an avid book collector, and a member of The Grolier Club, the preeminent club for bibliophiles in North America. He and his wife split their time between Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Kingham, Oxfordshire, in England.

Charlie Lovett
Read an excerpt:

Oxfordshire, Present Day

AFTER FIVE YEARS  at Oxford,  Sophie  Collingwood had  mas­tered  the  art  of reading  while walking.  She  knew every curve  of the Thames Path from Oxford to Godstow, and had the ability to sense and avoid oncoming pedestrians. This  was a useful skill for someone  so ab­ sorbed by the books she read that she often pictured  herself at the center of whatever romance  or mystery or adventure played out on their pages. On  a sunny day in July, she was walking opposite the  wide expanse  of Port Meadow, where horses and cattle stood grazing as they had for cen­ turies. On the  river a quartet of picnickers  were making their  way back downstream in a punt, and the smooth  sound of the flat-bottomed  boat gliding across the water seemed  the perfect accompaniment to the day. In the  midst of this idyll, Sophie  spotted, over the top of her well-worn copy of Mansfield Park, a young  man  lying under  a tree, reading. His artfully  relaxed
sprawl and his intentionally disheveled clothes  radiated a  combination of arrogance and  apathy.  Slovenly would  be  the  best word to describe  him, she decided-the unwashed  hair, the shredded jeans, the  faded T-shirt.  It was a style that  both  puzzled  and  annoyed her. Sure, Sophie  didn't always go out of her way to look good, but to go
out of one's way to look bad just seemed  rude. As she drew level with
him he greeted  her in a lazy American  voice.
"How's it goin'?"  he asked, but Sophie  only raised her  book higher

 and walked on, pretending his question had been lost in the breeze. As she rounded the next bend in the river and was lost to his sight, she had a sudden recollection. She had heard that voice before. It had been two nights ago, at the Bear. She had been  standing at the bar waiting to order drinks for a group of friends who were discussing the relative mer- its of Mansfield Park and Persuasion, when that brash American accent had cut through the clamor of the crowd.

“What really gets me is these Austen fangirls. Running  around pre- tending the sun rises and sets with some chick who wrote soap operas two hundred  years ago.” And then,  in a mocking imitation  of an En- glish girl, he had added, “I think Mansfield Park isn’t properly appreci- ated by the establishment.”  Sophie had crossed back to the table with her drinks, and the sound of his voice had been blessedly swallowed up by the noise of the crowd, but the damage had been done, for it had been Sophie who had made the remark about Mansfield Park, not five minutes earlier. When she told her friends what she had heard, they had all had a good laugh about the whole thing and had quickly come to the conclusion that this conceited American was a prat.

After a half-pint of bitter in the garden of the Trout, Sophie headed back toward Oxford. It would take her just over an hour to walk the four miles to Christ Church, and that should be enough time, she thought, to see Fanny and Edmund married. But, just as things were beginning to look inevitable for the two young lovers, Sophie  heard once again that insufferable voice.
“Whatcha reading?” it asked, as Sophie approached. He spoke louder this time, and she couldn’t pretend she hadn’t heard.
“Not that it’s any of your business,” said Sophie, “but I happen to be reading Jane Austen.”
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”
Sophie was so taken aback that she almost smiled in spite of herself. After his comments  in the Bear the last thing she expected from him was a Jane Austen quote.
“Surprised to hear me say that?”

“It’s just that that’s a rather obscure Austen quote for a . . . a . . .”
“A what?” asked the man.  “An unsophisticated,  uncultured, unen- lightened dilettante?”
“That’s not what I meant,”  said Sophie.  “It’s just that most people haven’t read . . .”
“Northanger Abbey?” “Exactly.”
“And you’re surprised since I’m not wearing tweed and sitting in a dusty study, that I have the first idea about Austen.”
“On the contrary,” she said politely. “I think lounging on the banks of the Thames on a sunny summer day is the perfect way to read Austen.” “Well, to be fair, there are two reasons I can quote that passage so precisely. First, I saw it on a T-shirt in the Bodleian shop yesterday, so it’s not as obscure as you think.”Sophie could barely conceal  her irritation at this. “And the second reason?” she said icily.

He held up a battered paperback copy of Northanger Abbey. “I just read it about ten seconds before you walked up. I’m Eric. Eric Hall.” He extended his hand  without raising himself off the ground, simultane- ously tossing his hair out of his eyes. Sophie  fought to keep her face from betraying that she already knew he was a jerk. And yet she sensed that behind his studied appearance and almost scripted insolence there was something softer. It wasn’t just that he read Jane Austen. It was the way he waited for her response with almost painful anticipation—like  a little boy seeking approval.

“Sophie,” she said, offering her hand but not her surname. “Pleasure to meet you.”

From First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen by Charlie Lovett. Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Charles Lovett, 2014.

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schilds said...

I tend to trust my instincts.

Vesper said...

First impressions can be wrong, when you met someone new you can easily hid who you really are

LuAnn @ BackPorchervations said...

I saw a movie a couple of weeks ago about an "all Jane Austen" book club, and I watched it because I remembered your blog. :O)

Dung said...

Sounds like a fun read, My first impression is pretty accurate.

Laurie I said...

I think our first impression is usually accurate, and I tend to trust my instinct. On the other hand I think some people are very good at deceiving others, and I'm surprised at how easily I can be fooled.
I expect to get an enjoyable Jane Austen related dual narrative from Charlie Lovett.

junewilliams7 said...

Oh, no.... is he a Wickham or Willoughby type, to be avoided like the plague? Run, Sophie, run!

Laurel Ann (Austenprose) said...

This is a lovely new Austenesque novel. I find that first impressions are usually accurate. I loved how Austen turned it around and had Lizzy & Darcy in a hate/love relationship. The change in their characters opinions of each other is so rewarding.