In this fresh and original retelling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Bennet's greatest fear comes to pass-Longbourn is entailed to Mr. Collins. Elizabeth finds work as a governess in London, widening the social divide between her and Mr. Darcy and making it more difficult than ever for them to find their way to each other...
Originally, I had planned to read this for next year's Jane in June, as I didn't think I was going to have time this year. But then Allison tweeted me quite enthusiastically about this book, and asked if I was planning on reading it. At the time, I was trying to get into another book, and since it wasn't what I was in the mood for, and this one was coming so highly recommended, I decided to make a switcheroo. I don't regret that.
Only Mr Darcy Will Do is thoroughly engaging. I was worried at first, because to achieve one of the biggest shake-ups I've seen in a retelling (barring the addition of zombies), Kara Louise had to kill off Mr Bennet. Sad, but true. Mr B dies right after Darcy's first botched proposal, which means the futures of all the Bennet women are up in the air. Lydia hasn't run off, Bingley hasn't come back to Jane, Lizzie has turned down Darcy and Collins, both of whom could have provided security for her and her family, and she is now working as a governess. It's quite a state to find them in. Add to this the fact that one of the family members whom Lizzie works for has her sights set on Darcy and has made Lizzie her confidante, and things get off to quite an interesting start.
I think part of what appealed to me most about this was that everything was so different. It was a case of everything changes but everything stays the same: it wasn't a totally foreign setting or a modern update, so it had that authentic feel, but at the same time it was wholly different from other retellings and variations I've read. And it was a smart path to take, too, since it hinges on something that was actually very crucial (the entailment and Lizzie's refusal of Collins), but that doesn't generally get a lot of notice. It was completely enjoyable to see some of the familiar things happen in a new way, and to see familiar characters in different settings, and watch them blossom as they are supposed to, but not in the ways you're used to. It was refreshing but still comfortable, if that makes sense.
Another thing that had me smiling pleasantly (aka like a loon) throughout was that Louise pulled in elements or influences from the rest of Austen's body of work (plus a dash of Jane Eyre, IMO), and it just worked. There were things that felt reminiscent of other stories (Miss Matthews' confiding in Lizzie was like Lucy Steele confiding in Elinor, for example), but it never felt like she was just ripping off other stories to bulk out her own. It felt more like a writerly nod to Janeites. It was like really skillful cherry-picking, taking elements that are going to leave that little familiar tingle in the back of your head (I know this) and working them into the fabric of the story so that they are seamless and seem to have always been there. I have no idea if it was intentional or the product of fandom, but it was really well done and fun, like a little treasure hunt for enthusiasts.
The negatives for me were few and didn't outweigh the positives, though they do bear mentioning. Two were purely pet peeves: there was a little too much in the way of embodiments of angst for me. Lizzie seems to be continually balling up her fists in anger, or pounding them on things (her pillow, herself, etc); all the fisting and pounding* seemed really grandiose and juvenile, and it was just unappealing to me. I think mostly because it didn't seem to reflect the Lizzie I know. The other I've talked about before, and that's the schmexiness in Austen. I'm not going to go into it again, but I'm always hesitant because it's very rarely done well; this was acceptable, but ultimately meh. The biggest thing, though, was that the end just really seemed to drag on and on (and on) for me. It didn't drag on quite as bad as another one I mentioned this month, but I did feel like it could have used some neatening. There comes a point where you just want things to be wrapped up and complete; the denoument is over, you've come down from the climax** of the story, and you're just ready to have it be complete. I started to check out at the end, which was disappointing for as much as I had been enjoying myself.
All in all, though, I'm certainly glad for Allison's enthusiastic tweeting, because I really liked this one and highly recommend it, especially for its fresh take. Not to be missed for Janeites.
*That may have been the most unintentionally dirty thing I've ever said. Okay, mostly unintentionally... ;)
** My god, I can't stop!
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