Debut novel from a New York Times editor and Jane Austen devotee.
At some point in the future, Earth’s atmosphere has been destroyed, the human population has been decimated, time travel is possible, and readers are still in love with Jane Austen. Physician and Jane Austen fanatic Rachel Katzman has been chosen by the Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics for a very specific task: she and her colleague, an actor named Liam, will go back to the early 18th century, ingratiate themselves with the Austen family, and bring the author’s letters and an unpublished manuscript back to the future. Rachel’s mission is complicated by the necessities of time travel—she and Liam struggle to disrupt the past as little as possible, and their window to return to their own era is finite—and by matters personal. This accomplished, adventurous woman must adapt to the retiring life of a genteel lady. She must negotiate the erotic charge that builds between her and Liam, who is posing as her brother. She is forced to navigate a marriage proposal from Henry, Jane’s favorite brother. And Rachel must make difficult choices about how she responds—or does not respond—to the illness that would ultimately kill Jane Austen. There is plenty of material here for an engaging novel. The trouble is figuring out for whom this novel is intended. Fans of science fiction will not be satisfied; Flynn’s use of genre tropes is fitful and idiosyncratic, and Rachel’s ability to acclimate to her new surroundings is too easy to be interesting. And, while Jane Austen is obviously the big draw here, she plays only a secondary role in this story, and Flynn’s novel feels like an Austen novel only in the most superficial ways. An author can hardly be blamed for failing to match one of the most celebrated voices in English literature, of course, but it’s nearly impossible not to compare in this case.
An inventive, if not entirely satisfying, diversion.