Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Man Who Loved Jane Austen, by Sally Smith O'Rourke. A Review by Donna

I don't make a habit of reading Jane Austen fanfic, continuations, parallel stories, etc. But this title sold me - one click on the Kindle and there he was. Any man who appreciates Jane Austen is worth meeting, in my humble opinion, if only for his unique point of view regarding the classic stories I can quote by heart. Throw in charming, handsome, sensitive and rich and we have ourselves a ballgame. It took a couple of chapters before I realized that in this story, the man who "loved Jane Austen," really did.

Meet Fitzwilliam Darcy - yes, that's correct. Fitzwilliam Darcy. Charming, handsome, sensitive and rich, this modern day Virginian horse breeder owns a vast estate/ranch appropriately named Pemberley Farms. Mr. Darcy should be content with his life, but he is haunted by a strange event in his past. Three years in his past, to be exact, although to him it might as well be two hundred.

Eliza Knight is an artist residing in twenty-first century New York City - as far from Jane Austen's idyllic Hampshire as one can get. Eliza has a creative eye for unusual old furniture and one day purchases an antique vanity table. While examining her new piece, she stumbles upon a packet of vellum letters well hidden in the attached mirror. One of the letters is already open and while the meaning of the words are difficult to decipher, the signature is not - F. Darcy. The other letter is properly sealed (red wax and all) and Eliza believes it to be written by Jane Austen herself.

The letters are the key that bring Eliza and Fitz together at his Virginia homestead and this is where the man who loved Jane has the opportunity to tell his story. Suspend belief here folks and just go with it.

The story has potential, but fell short of my expectations. The author spends a good deal of energy shifting between present day Virginia (a setting with enormous romantic potential) and nineteenth century Regency England (where Jane Austen is fictionally portrayed). Although the latter is important in understanding this Darcy, the overwrought retelling of his experience diluted the other element (and to me, more real) part of the story - Eliza and Darcy's immediate attraction. I would have liked to see more development of the relationship between Eliza and Fitz. It seemed as though one moment they were adversaries, and the next, well not.  And unfortunately, "more" remained the watchword throughout. I wanted more of Fitz's thoughts, more of Eliza's thoughts, more description of the beautiful place that was Pemberley Farms, and much more romance. Curiosity aroused, I wanted heaps of everything and just didn't get it.

"The Man Who Loved Jane Austen" is best saved for light, rainy day reading when there is nothing else about. The premise is a good one, the title a clincher. The telling of story, however - not so much.

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