Jane Bites Back — Michael Thomas Ford

In Michael Thomas Ford’s novel Jane Bites Back, Jane Austen (you know, the Jane Austen) is an incognito vampire/bookstore clerk in upstate New York. Poor Jane is trying to get a new novel published (under a pseudonym, of course), but she suffers scores of rejection letters for her new work. Even worse is the horror of the Jane Austen industry, which, under the auspices of public domain laws, clutters Jane’s own bookshop with awful books that, like, don’t “get” the Austen oeuvre (in the climactic scene of the book’s opening chapter, Vampire Jane gets some measure of revenge by consuming the boorish author of an execrable volume entitled Waiting for Mr. Darcy). Of course, there’s got to be a plot, so Jane does get an offer for a book deal, one that’s complicated by accusations of plagiarism and other woes. To make matters worse, her old lover Lord Byron shows up (yeah, Byron, duh. How else would Jane Austen catch the vampirism?) There are other ghosts of literary past who show up, too, but why spoil surprises?

Jane Bites Back reveres its subject, Jane Austen, even as it blatantly cashes in on the very trend that it satirizes. The book’s program shouldn’t be confused with the absurdity behind Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters (which we liked) or the wackiness of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (which we didn’t like), but it does adhere to the same sense of fun. Ford seems to delight in corny, over the top passages, and we’ll take it for granted that his literary tongue is in his cheek when he writes a paragraph like:

When his hand cupped her breasts she gasped, and when his mouth touched her skin she felt her knees buckle. He caught her, sweeping her up in his arms and carrying her to the bed. He placed her atop the sheets and stepped back. She watched through half-closed eyes as he removed his clothes. His chest was lean, his skin pale as milk. When stepped from his trousers she glanced briefly at his manhood before looking away.

His “manhood”?! Jeez, we hope this is parody. In any case, we were laughing. (Sidenote: How does this stack up against the sex scenes in the Twilight books? Are there sex scenes in the Twilight books? What Biblioklept reader will even admit to having read Twilight?)

Ford’s style is, on the whole, redolent with the tropes of YA fiction–not that Jane Bites Back is necessarily YA–but there’s not a challenging sentence in the book, which may or may not be a compliment for the writer. Clear, lucid writing is difficult to do. Still, we tend to value ambiguity around here; being perplexed and furious is a good reaction from time to time. Jane Bites Back reads with an anonymous speed that’s not particularly invigorating.

If we were really feeling adventurous today, we might wax heavy on the all the implications, meta- and otherwise, of a book that purports to criticize the Austen fad while at the same time indulging in it…but we’re not feeling up to it. There’s also a neat Venn diagram in all of this: vampires, Jane Austen, feminism (yeah, there are feminist themes here. Did we forget to mention them? Sorry). Suffice to say that any reader whose ears perk up at the notion of “Jane Austen + vampires” will not be disappointed in this book.

Jane Bites Back is new from Ballantine Books.

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