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Contemporary/Retelling, 341 pages
Published September 15th 2011 by Choc Lit
Hmm. Okay, how do I say this without sounding kinda crazy? I accepted this for review, but I was really unsure of whether I was going to like it. That makes me sound like a jackass, so let me explain: it's contemporary and it has a gorgeous cover - those are 2 things that put my guard up, because contemporary (no matter how often I read excellent contemporary) translates to "fluff" in my stubborn mind, and I've been burned by the Pretty Cover Curse one too many times. But I liked Juliet's excerpt last year, and talking about her with the book, so I was willing to accept it and hope for the best (I mean...it's so pretty). But me "hoping for the best" is kinda laughable, so I was still a little nervous when I picked this up that I was going to read it, not like it, and then have to be a jerkface to the sweet Juliet.
And Oh, me of little faith... This was so good. It's great chick lit without being fluffy or throw-away, and I was amazed at how, simultaneously, Juliet was able to be very contemporary and modern, and still very faithful to Persuasion. There are some changes that are more of a departure than others, but in a way that both worked for the story Juliet was telling, and as a logical modern extrapolation of the original. There were so many times that I found myself thinking, 'Huh, that was a clever use of _________'. And because of this, it provided another layer of enjoyment that I wasn't expecting: It works as a modern romance, it works as a Persuasion retelling, and it works as this sort of Easter-egg-filled nod to Jane and Janeites, with all of these little bits of really well-plotted parallels to the stories Jane told.
It's not just in plot points that Juliet was faithful, though. For all their modern sensibilities, and the way their habits, interests and tendencies would have to be adapted to fit the setting, Archer's characters remained true at their core to the characters they were based on. Take Mrs. Clay, for example - in Archer's version, she has wormed her way into the lives of Sir Walter and "Lisa" (aka Elizabeth) as a fake-French masseuse who flatters the vanity of both Elliots and makes herself indespensible to them. Her grasping, social climbing, using-her-wiles ways are a bit more bold than Mrs Clay, but all the more well-suited to a modern adaptation because of that. She's still very much Mrs Clay, and everyone can see through her except those who need to - it just works! Similarly, Rick's treatment of Anna in the beginning, and his spiteful little thrill of pleasure the first time he sees her and she's looking worn-down and messy - things like this were a great interpretation of Persuasion, done in a way that rings true to the modern reader. Twists like this were really clever and fun to me.
Now, I've talked a lot about how faithful this is, but I want to be clear, it's not just a regurgitation of Persuasion in a modern setting; Archer did adapt some things and completely change some things, but she did so in a really sensible way that I don't think would much bother even most ardent, faithful Janeites. This is not the chaste love story of Austen's time (nor is that necessary or even very believable, in a modern setting). This is very modern, and very relatable to today's audience (even those who haven't read or, *gasp* didn't like, Austen), but most of all, it's just really readable. I have a habit of not picking books up until late into the night, when I should be sleeping. This book had me repeatedly questioning just how much sleep I really needed...
All told, I'm definitely going to be picking up Archer's The Importance of Being Emma for next year's Jane in June.