REVIEW: Persuading Austen by Brigid Coady
It is a truth universally acknowledged that working with an ex is a terrible idea…
Annie Elliot never expected her life to turn out this way: living with her dad, working as an accountant – surely the least glamorous job in Hollywood?! – and dodging her family’s constant bickering.
Landing a job as a producer on a new adaptation of Pride and Prejudice seems like the piece of luck she’s been waiting for. Until the cast is announced, and Annie discovers that the actor playing Mr Darcy is Austen Wentworth: the man she’s spent nearly a decade trying to forget.
Not only is Austen her ex – but while Annie’s life has stalled, Austen is Hollywood’s hottest property…and has just been voted World’s Sexiest Man.
With nowhere to hide, there’s just one question. Now the one who got away has come back, should Annie stand by her pride? Or give into Austen’s powers of persuasion?
Dear Ms. Coady,
After reading and enjoying “No One Wants to Be Miss Havisham”, I was excited to see this book out. From Dickens we go to Austen and not one but two Austen books as this is a blend of not only “Persuasion” but also has a bit of “P&P” thrown in.
The plot set up is wonderful with the main characters cleverly modernized to present day London. The Elliots are an old and illustrious acting family but the current head of the family is more pomp these days than circumstance. Eldest sister and actress Immy is as obnoxious as her father while youngest sister Marie has latched on to her own brand of C list fame as a TV presenter. Meanwhile solid Anne is looked at more as a dogsbody to fetch, carry and keep Dad and Immy out of the financial trouble their extravagance lands them in. Marie views her more as a child minder and the siblings’ godmother, a Grand Dame of British theater, condescendingly dominates Anne’s once bright romance with a then up and coming but poor actor named Austen Wentworth.
In the years since she broke off her relationship with Austen, he has moved to Hollywood and become an acting sensation beloved of the tabloids and social media while Anne has opened an agency with her friend Cassie and works as a production accountant with an eye to moving into producing. Her family might still slight and ignore her except for expecting her to foot the bills and keep them in their excessive London house but we are told that professionally Anne gets respect and has a backbone.
Finally all her hopes appear to be on the verge of coming true when their agency is hired to oversee the finances of a new production of “Pride and Prejudice” while Anne will also be its producer. Then her past and present worlds collide as her irresponsible relatives, including estranged cousin Will, get parts with the understanding that Anne will keep them all in line as well as her past love Austen who will be none other than Mr. Darcy himself. Can she keep her family corralled, the finances straight, the tabloids from any juicy set scandal and not reveal that under it all she still loves Austen even if he’s moved on?
There are many wonderful bits here such as William Elliot fixating on his Wikipedia page instead of the original Baronetage. Anne’s mother had been the one keeping the family afloat with her voice over spots while Kellynch is the name of the listing agency Anne contacts to rent their London home. The Musgrove sisters are there while Marie still won’t nurse her sons. Cousin Will is sneered at for acting in a soap opera and dragging down the fine Elliott name. Instead of having friends who are fellow Navy men, Austen’s friends are actors while the actresses playing Jane and Lizzie Bennett are a lesbian couple.
Anne has the backbone of a squashed, overcooked cabbage where her family is concerned. One of those romance deathbed promises to a mother plus her own insecurities have trapped her in the role of propping up her other relations who ruthlessly take advantage of her. Watching Anne continually suppress her justifiable anger at how they treat her over the course of the whole book got wearying. Anne’s is the only POV we get and she alternately stumbles in surprise or almost chokes on food or drink as a default response the actions or speech of others to the point where I’m surprised the Heimlich maneuver wasn’t needed to resuscitate her along with painkillers for her bruises.
Still Anne was supposed to be fantastic in her job as opposed to managing her family. Right, I thought, at least here she’ll shine and we will see her at her best. But no, when something serious begins to be suspected on set and it’s Anne’s reputation and job on the line, she wilts and dithers and puts off confronting those she suspects or digging further into the matter to uncover the truth. Several times she reminds herself that she really ought to get to the bottom of it all and I increasingly nodded my head and then eventually began talking aloud to my ereader saying things like “Damn right Annie, it’s only your job here!” She does finally buckle down but I was not impressed with her lackluster performance here.
As for the romance, there are clues all over the place for how Austen truly feels but Anne persists in obtuseness to the very end. Given why their relationship originally ended (Anne caving to her family) and Austen’s feelings about it then plus Anne’s continued squashed cabbage caving actions throughout the book, I truly wondered why Austen didn’t just give up and move on before he finally opens her eyes with a text message of love. Here Anne is just too cringing, self effacing and self defeating as she mumbles and stares at her feet for me to feel much beyond book long exasperation. C-