Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart (Don't judge 2/30)

Mr. Darcy broke my heart - Beth Pattillo

I've been reading Les Miserables and really enjoying it but my dear friend Victor can be a bit on the heavy side. So when I went into Barnes and Noble last weekend I wanted something light and fun that I could get through quickly without the urge to mark passages and make notes in the margins. I was perusing the new fiction table and I noticed this book because of the cover. There is a woman in a pretty red dress...what can I say, I like pretty dresses!

I read the back and the first few pages and was intrigued. Now, here comes the disclaimer - even though I really hate to have to put one, I know I need to. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on modern representations of Jane Austen and actually devoted an entire chapter to Chick Lit - a term that just rubs me the wrong way. It irritates me that it's an actual literary term but so it is. What was I saying...ah yes...thesis. I was looking at how Austen has been used and maybe abused by authors today in a myriad of different ways. It's interesting to see that what is being said usually says more about the person saying it than Austen herself. It's something that still interests me a great deal so when I see a book that has anything to do with Austen I take a look. I've read it all. Continuations of Austen's novels, retellings and works "inspired" by Austen's novels. Some are quite entertaining and others are glorified fan-fiction with sex, duels and heaving bosoms. But I digress...

Pattillo actually surprised me with this story. What could have been more of the same - glorified fan fiction and heaving bosoms intrigued me. It takes place in one week while the main character, Claire, is attending a summer seminar at Oxford on Jane Austen. Claire has recently lost her job, she has a boyfriend that is less than enthusiastic, her parents died when she was 18 and she has been taking care of her younger sister ever since. While there she just happens to meet an old woman who just happens to be a direct descendant of Austen through one of Austen's brothers. And this woman just happens to have the lost manuscript of First Impressions - what would later become Pride & Prejudice.The plot is ridiculous but it's just what keeps the characters moving. Claire, of course, meets a good looking, mysterious man while there but it's not what you think it would be.

Pattillo does something that I haven't encountered with other Austen spin offs. She uses the larger than life character of Mr. Darcy as a vehicle for self discovery for her heroine. The story isn't really about Claire's love life or who she will or won't end up with. It's about her finally coming to terms with her parent's death and letting go of her little sister. It's not the best novel I've ever read but I was pleasantly surprised with it. The sections that took place in the classroom were fun for me because it reminded me of my own Austen Seminar Senior year. This definitely isn't a book for everyone but it was a good antidote to Hugo and his heavy handed metaphors and suffering.