Although I loved the cover of this book, the main attraction for me was that it was linked to Jane Austen. In fact, the author doesn't make an appearance until relatively late on in the book, but this didn't matter in the slightest.
The book centres on the character of Anne Sharp - governess to the eldest daughter of Jane's wealthy brother Edward. Hornby takes what is known about about Anne and weaves an incredible story around those facts. Where speculations are made, they are absolutely in-keeping with society of the time and ring true in terms of the actions of the characters. In a book of this ilk, in my experience it's not often that you are able to fully suspend your disbelief and accept the characters as, at once, wholly fictional and wholly real. In this instance I could and did.
Whilst the book is not a page-turning thriller - it's very much a gentle read, but with a dash of Austen's snappy observations - it kept me fully engaged throughout and in a month where I've struggled to read, it kept me coming back and looking forward to the next instalment of the story. Anne is flawed, yes, but she is a thoroughly likeable character and the reader cannot help but empathise with her situation and the gradual realisation that her life before Godmersham was not what she thought it was.
The other thing I found interesting about this book was that whilst it was absolutely in-keeping with the time it's set in, it felt thoroughly fresh throughout. Again, not an easy feat, but one Hornby accomplishes with aplomb. As I was reading it, I was discussing it with friends and mentioned that there was one particular plot point that I'd picked up where it was obvious that something was going on below the surface, but I couldn't decide which of the two possible avenues I'd identified, the author would chose to send the characters along. In the end, Hornby found a third path and it worked wonderfully. It was unexpected but utterly believable and immensely satisfying.
I felt bereft when I closed the book for the last time and was left wanting to know much more about Anne Sharp.