Dear Ms. Potter:
I’m thinking that this book caught me just a few years too late. Not only is this a chick lit novel, but it is also a Jane Austen homage which seems to be the topic du jour at publishing houses these days. I can see the appeal of Darcy and the desire to draw upon the positive connotations that many readers have with the Austen ouvre, but this retelling of a classic, while sweet and well written, suffered in comparison with the original.
Emily Albright is a bookstore manager for a family owned bookstore in New York. She’s had a string of bad dates and her friend is trying to get her to run off to Mexico for New Years. Instead, Emily decides to go on a tour of Jane Austen country. Her excitement is a bit dashed when she discovers that her group is mostly older women making her rethink her decision.
Joining the group is journalist, Spike Hargreaves, sent by his paper to discover why Mr. Darcy is the fantasy dream date of most British women. Spike, of course, is the antithesis of Darcy. Unkempt with a slight Buddha belly (as my girlfriends and I like to call it), foul mouthed and certainly unchivalrous. Compared to the literary perfection that is Darcy, Spike has no chance of capturing the heart of our intrepid heroine.
This is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice. The character arcs of Spike and Emily intentionally mirror that of Darcy and Elizabeth. Emily overhears Spike say something to a friend of his that is unflattering to her just as Elizabeth overhears Darcy decline to dance with Mr. Bingley because she is not handsome enough. The tour bus driver tells Emily something unsavory about Spike just like when Mr. Wickham tells something unsavory to Elizabeth about Mr. Darcy, generating dislike. When Darcy, err Spike, comes forward with his feelings, he is soundly rebuffed by Elizabeth, I mean, Emily.
The book is replete with quotations from Pride and Prejudice. There would be a quoted passage and then there would be a virtual re-enactment of the scene with Emily and Spike instead of Elizabeth and Darcy.
There was a very thin line between cleverness and contrivance, and for me, it fell off on the contrivance side. I think if it hadn’t had the quoted passages from Pride and Prejudice and the character of Mr. Darcy populating the pages, that it would have been more inventive. It seemed, however, too close a copy to actually be original.
There were certainly charming parts to the book. Many of the older women on tour had very full lives and they were quite charming. At one point, Emily wonders to herself how she is so stuck in her rut when those other women were out living. Emily has not quite the appeal of Elizabeth, but she still manages to carry her pages. Spike is enjoyable in his role as the anti-Darcy.
If the reader is in the mood for a revisit to Pemberly with new characters and appearances from Darcy, this is the right book. Its very readable but simply too close to the original to make me enjoy it. It’s hard to retell a classic without bringing something new and fresh and not be compared, unfavorably, to a master. C