We’ve chosen The Jane Austen Marriage Manual, as the latest book in our Summer Reads series.
Author Kim Izzo introduces us to Kate Shaw, a modern-day Austen character: a single woman at the “unmarriageable” age of 40. In Kate, we find a smart woman who has the charisma and ingenuity to usually get what she wants. But that all changes when her career plans fall through, a beloved relative becomes ill, and the stock markets crash—taking her savings with them. So when a writing assignment comes along, she can hardly say no. The assignment? Find out if 40 is actually too old to marry well. Kate fully commits to the assignment and sets out to find the husband that will give her an ending every mother out of Jane Austen’s works hopes for: marriage to a rich, if not respectable, man.
We got the chance to talk to author Kim Izzo about her first novel. She has also written three non-fiction books on decorum, manners, and grace under pressure.
Cottage Life: Every woman who loves Jane Austen on some level longs for a little bit of the attitudes of Austen’s era, when etiquette and manners defined how people acted in society. Do you think our society suffers for a lack of manners?
Kim Izzo: My short answer is, yes. Our society tossed manners out the door decades ago and it’s only getting worse. Having co-written two etiquette books this is practically an obsession of mine! And it is another element of Austen’s world that appealed to me.
CL: Kate ends up going to some extreme measures in the book. What’s the craziest thing you’ve done for a writing assignment?
KI: While I’m not as brave as my character Kate, I was given the once in a lifetime chance to go on safari in Kenya for Zoomer magazine (I’m the deputy editor). It was a childhood dream but on the last day our group was nearly charged by a bull elephant. It was exhilarating and scary as hell.
CL: Your romance novel deals with some fairly serious themes—financial security, grief, aging, the pressure on women to have children, etc. Was it hard to keep the overall tone of the novel light while taking Kate on a journey to some darker places?
KI: I’ve always admired books and films that mix genres and tones. I have a very dark sense of humour even though I lightened up the tone quite a bit. I’ve always found in my life that there is humour in most things and I just wanted to pull it out. It’s the only way to cope with life’s roller coaster.
CL: And now for some questions about the cottage: What hostess gift do you take when you visit someone’s cottage?
KI: I like to bring pretty guest soaps or fancy tea like Tea Forte and some English biscuits. And I always bring up food for one good dinner that I will also cook, usually steak and a great dessert.
CL: What’s the perfect book to read at the cottage?
KI: The latest Phillipa Gregory (she wrote the Tudor novels including The Other Boleyn Girl). This summer, I’m reading The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin.