Updated on May 24, 2015
2. ‘First Impressions’ by Charlie Lovett
I didn’t even get halfway through the first line of the blurb before I decided that I wanted this book: “Book lover and Jane Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has barely started her new job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when…”. Stories about books tick all my boxes – as do stories about writers – and so the kind people at Alma Books sent me First Impressions to review.
Sophie Collingwood has just graduated from university and faces a quandary: what to do with the rest of her life? Her only guiding force is her love of old books, inspired and nurtured by her dear Uncle Bertram in his book-lined London flat. But when something happens to Uncle Bertram, Sophie finds herself embroiled in a mysterious book hunt, which could have a huge impact on the historical significance of her favourite author: Jane Austen.
First Impressions alternates between Sophie in the modern day, and Jane Austen in the 18th century as she enters into a close friendship with the ageing Richard Mansfield. For Austen, this friendship is a source of great comfort and much literary inspiration, particularly when it comes to her most famous book: Pride and Prejudice.
I thought it was clever how Lovett kept the modern day mystery going throughout the novel, whilst simultaneously dipping into the world of Austen, which contained all the answers. I also thought the dialogue in the Austen chapters was very well-rendered, written in the style of Austen’s novels, which lent it a charming authenticity.
Sophie was an interesting character to read: I think Lovett wanted to make it seem as though she was born in the wrong century, that she would have fit in much better in the 18th century world of country manors and city balls. Sophie has a certain snobbery towards literature published after World War One, which reminded me of my teenage self and my (former) belief that only the classics are the really good books. As for Sophie’s romantic interests, it is easy to see from the beginning that Lovett is trying to mirror his novel with Pride and Prejudice, but although the ending is inevitable it is still satisfying to read.
First Impressions contains a healthy dose of intrigue and, even though the plot might sometimes get a little bit farfetched, it is always enjoyable. There’s plenty to like in First Impressions: it’s a lighthearted, fast-paced novel, drenched in delicious literary references. One for the book-lovers.
“‘It is not riches that I seek but rather the possibility that my published words might allow me to have a similar communion of thought with those unseen.'”
Want to read this? You can buy the book here.