A current trend that I've noticed in novels over the last few years has been the constant use of Jane Austen's works to build a story on. There have been rewrites, sequels and prequels, moving the settings to modern times and more variations than you can shake a stick at. At times, I've enjoyed myself a lot reading them, but at other times I want to fling the book at the wall.
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Which was the case when I was reading Beth Patillo's Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart. Claire Prescott, a suddenly unemployed office assistant, finds herself substituting for her sister in Oxford, England. Missy was going to present a paper at a Jane Austen-themed symposium, but being pregnant had prevented her from traveling -- hence Claire's sudden arrival. And it should have been great for Claire, a chance to travel, and all she has to do is take notes for her sister and read the paper.
But fate has other plans for Claire. For one, Claire is so ridden with anxiety that she can't simply relax and enjoy herself, but instead she is afraid that everyone is going to see what a fraud she is and come after her with pitchforks and torches to fling her out of the hallowed cloisters of Oxford. To complicate matters further, when she meets the devastating good-looking James, Claire lies about what she does.
Now she's got guilt and shame added to her burdens. But relief arrives in the form of an apparently homeless, ditsy woman named Harriet Dalrymple, who invites the forlorn Claire into her home for tea, and some sympathy. But Harriet has an even bigger secret -- she may have an early draft of Pride and Prejudice in her possession, a copy that completely changes the original story that Miss Austen had in mind.
Soon enough, Claire finds herself sitting through lectures and having dates with the handsome James in between reading the chapters that Harriet is steadily revealing to her. But is the early draft real, or just the creative imaginings of a demented old woman? And what is James really after?
The story becomes even more complicated when Claire's somewhat-boyfriend Neil shows up. Compared to James, he's not much more than a country hick, and his idea of a good date is much less sophisticated than James. Claire is going to have start making decisions of her own, and soon, if she's to mend the mess she's made of things.
What can I say? After reading Ms. Patillo's earlier novel, I was eager to take this on, and at first it was pretty interesting. The concept sounded entertaining, and the potential for plenty of scenery chewing was there. But as the story was revealed, the book took on a very predictable stance, and by the time I reached the halfway point, I could see where the story was going. That's bad news, especially when the book was less than two hundred pages, and despite the fact that the writing was decent and the pacing was fairly lively, I just wanted the story to be over.
That's the point when a book hits the wall, as they say. Instead of setting the book aside, and moving on to something else, I ground on through it, and said a few choice words at the end, all unrepeatable in polite society. While I did find the tentative romance between Claire and James interesting and full of possibilities, I found Neil to be as interesting as wet cardboard, appearing in his jeans, t-shirt and baseball cap. Especially the baseball cap, as I find the current fashion of wearing them for adult males loathsome, as they really are only appropriate either when you are playing ball or younger than the age of nine. On adults, it's not the best thing. Too, he has very little personality in the book, besides jealous, more jealous, and acting spoiled and in the I-can't-make-up-my-mind mode.
That just kills a story for me. Too, his appearance is much too sudden and sparse, as though the author was thinking she had to throw some sort of masculine competition in there for the oh-so-perfect James. It didn't work at all.
Along with the story, there is an author's note at the end, and a list of questions for reader's groups to consider.
Fortunately, the only good thing here was that Ms. Patillo can string along interesting sentences, and didn't create too many grammatical errors. But the story was flawed from the start, and never rose to more than a simmer for me, if at that. Ultimately, it's a very average, very forgettable book, and not one that I would wish on anyone, even the most energetic of Jane Austen fans. Forget this one, and move on to something else, something that at least will have a surprise or two in store for the reader.
Two stars. Not Recommended.
Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart
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