After reading the author’s The Girls Guide to Dating Zombies and appreciating her quirky humor, I was eager to see what she would do with Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. Turned it on it’s ear, that’s what she did. This contemporary, gender-bending mad-cap tale set against the world of a non-profit Venetian Art Museum nestled in Queens, NY was highly entertaining. I think the Austen lover would get a huge kick out of this if they are on the open-minded side, but the romantic comedy lover in general would have a few good snorts and laughs, too.
The story opens when a wealthy heiress arrives in New York and is now fair game for all the charity and non-profit organizations to make a run for her to pass some of her funds their way. Mr. Meryton of the Longbourn, the Venetian housing a fine display of art and anachronistic wonder of Queens, wants to be first on the scene. He rouses the Bethle brothers in their office to go after this potential sponsor.
Bennet works in the development office along with his older brother, John. Bennet focuses on corporate fundraising while John, the handsomer more personable of the two, handles the individuals. They are joined by their youngest brother, Lydon, who makes a lousy intern. John is the one to try to snag Miss Charlotte Bingston and Bennet is happy that the smoozing of rich, snobby socialites do not fall on him.
Charlotte Bingston or ‘Bingley’ as she prefers isn’t typical. She is refreshingly genuine and warm. Bennet is pleased to see John take an interest in her personally because John is also a beautiful person inside and out. But the brothers and the friend that accompany Bingley are just as Bennet pictured them. They hold their noses up at the small-time Longbourn Art Gallery and its quirky Venetian charm along with the people there. Bennet has no use for them especially, Bingley’s friend, Darcy Fitzwilliam who is rude and arrogant. Bennet prefers the cute, fun Georgia Wickham who Darcy wronged.
But little does Bennet know that while he is irritated, unimpressed, and annoyed by Darcy, she doesn’t feel the same way about him. He suspects her of having her hand in breaking up his brother and Bingley, of destroying Georgia, and her arrogance and view of people being beneath her just seal the deal. And it isn’t until her startling admission of this, that Bennet’s whole world is shaken.
Alrighty, so this one was a fun romp to a certain extent. I liked the overall spirit of what the author did, but there were pieces that I didn’t enjoy. It’s tricky to take a story set a few centuries ago and retell it as a modern. Most people choose to highlight and alter to create something that people expect in a contemporary read. While I appreciated that the author gave the full P&P story set in the modern world and enjoyed the heck out of her enhancing and highlighting the comic elements, I felt it also fell short because of stuff that didn’t translate well into the here and now.
For instance, the romance. The great romance wasn’t there. This modern pair weren’t together enough to make it believable. Oh, they had some page time, but they spent it sniping and arguing- not in a charged way, just the plain difference of opinion sort of way. No dates, no friendly chats, no common ground established or peace, but suddenly Darcy is proposing a serious relationship to Bennet. This lack of developing relationship felt fine for the original story, but it didn’t work for me in modern NYC. And many times, the use of the quotes from the original particularly during the dramatic conflict scene where he rejects her felt off.
Then there is Darcy, herself. Now, I get that the author has to make her into the arrogant, socially awkward, yet physically handsome character who will make mistakes and then grow and change. But I felt this Darcy had many strong negative traits without even a glimpse that there is another side. Even away from Bennet, when Darcy is with Bingley, she isn’t nice and is more like a cold-hearted snob through and through. There were no subtleties or hints that there is more to her and the reader and Bennet have her wrong or feeling her likeable. Later when the change comes, it is so abrupt and huge that it feels like a whole new character.
Now what did work for me was the comedy side.
Bennet has this dry wit and is a great narrator. Loved being along as he observed the quirky workings of stuff in his office, his over the top drama llama boss, his always look at the bright side brother John, and his irritation with little brother, Lydon. Bennet sees himself as the one out of them all that sees things clearly and he does up to the point of getting pricked when Darcy unjustly insults him leaving him vulnerable to believing every bad thing about her.
Lydon was a crack up. He is so delightfully full of larceny and cunning. He does as little work as possible, kisses up to the boss, takes what he likes, and comes out of a bad situation smelling like roses. He is unapologetic and incorrigible.
Another character that had me smiling was Darcy’s cousin, Collin. Collin is a trust fund baby and likes his creature comforts, but he doesn’t mind a little work as a volunteer helper in John and Bennet’s department. But his favorite thing to do is stirring pots- particularly Lady Catherine. He sees the subtleties and ironies and shares this trait with Bennet. Every scene Collin is in just sparkles.
So, I’m going to pronounce it a win overall. I had a good time and laughed many times. It’s a story that invites laughter and probably shouldn’t be taken seriously. I think perhaps the characters are meant to be more caricatures of Jane Austen’s characters so that is the spirit folks need to approach the story. I would definitely recommend it to Austenesque lovers who enjoy modern retellings and appreciate comedy in their stories, but also the fan of Romantic Comedy in general.
I received this book in exchange for an honest review.
Romance Roundabout #408
Austenesque Lovers #64
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