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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Review: Suddenly Mrs Darcy by Jenetta James

Suddenly Mrs. Darcy by Jenetta James
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200 pages
Published April 2015 by Meryton Press
Elizabeth Bennet never imagined her own parents would force her to marry a virtual stranger.

But when Mrs. Bennet accuses Fitzwilliam Darcy of compromising her daughter, that is exactly the outcome. Trapped in a seemingly loveless marriage and far from home, she grows suspicious of her new husband’s heart and further, suspects he is hiding a great secret. Is there even a chance at love given the happenstance of their hasty marriage?

I mentioned yesterday, in Jenetta's AIA guest post, that some of my favorite Pride & Prejudice what-if scenarios include a reluctant (on Elizabeth's part) marriage between Lizzie & Darcy, especially when it's thought that Darcy has compromised Lizzie.
I'm not going to try to psychoanalyze that too much, but I think for the most part, the reasons this scenario appeal to me are:
  • We still get to see a good bit of the falling-in-love and the realizing-I've-been-an-idiot thing that Darcy & Lizzie both do; it's a large part of what makes P&P shine in the first place, and it's often not there in JAFF, either because it's a sequel (so those things are already past) or because they fall in love some other way (so that delicious tension is gone)
  • It often plays on a major misunderstanding, which is something at the core of P&P, so it feels reminiscent of that, and it's fun to see how it all comes together
  • Darcy & Lizzie are normally at cross purposes in these scenarios, and completely unaware of what the other is actually thinking or feeling, and that is always delightful. 
  • And of course, then there's the amazing payoff when they start to actually pay attention to what's going on, rather than what they think is going on, and start to see each other with clear eyes -- and THAT is what we're all always waiting for.
  • (Also, it suits the time, so it's interesting to explore what would have been a fact for many young women, and could have been a fact for D&L, given the right set of circumstances, which these books try to provide)
So it's a scenario that could go really wrong and into creep-territory, but that works on a lot of levels that echo many threads of the original, but dialed up to 11.

It is also a very tricky scenario to pull off -- which is probably part of why I like it -- as it can easily go into creepy/rapey/Stockholm Syndrome-y territory. It's a risk, but a fascinating one, and I like to see how it plays out in the hands of different JAFF authors. In this case, Lizzie is forced to marry Darcy by her very angry parents, after Mrs. Bennet stumbles upon them at Netherfield Ball, alone in a semi-secluded area, with Darcy bent towards Lizzie in a whispered debate about Wickham, in a way Mrs B. mistakes for a kiss (or, as Lizzie repeatedly thinks to her chagrin, in a way her mother pretends to have mistaken for a kiss, so that she could force their wedding & the family's security). It's a good, fairly believable and rather innocent take on the "compromised" scenario, which I appreciate, and for the most part, I enjoyed it.

Now, I'm not sure if it was just the mood I was in, or the general quick pace of the writing, but Suddenly Mrs. Darcy pulled me along pretty happily, even over things that would generally really bother me. The writing style is very heavy on telling over showing; that pretty much is the writing style. There is no "show, don't tell" here -- the reader is told how Lizzie, Darcy and those around him react to things ("I was affronted") rather than being shown what happens and determining for ourselves (Hmm, Darcy just did X rude thing, and now Lizzie is acting like Y; bet she was rather affronted by that). Same for transitions between scenes, character thoughts, big events, etc. Though this style may move along very quickly, it doesn't leave you with much of a story, or with the potential, as a reader, to build the story in your head and make it your own as you read, in that great collaborative way that readers do. It's the bones of the story, lacking the juiciest pieces of meat.

NORMALLY, I would be very, very bothered by this. In fact, normally, it would make me set a book to the side. It's not necessarily that I consider telling over showing bad writing, as I consider it not-quite-writing; I think of it as shallow, early-stage writing that's just lacking in the development and character that make for style and substance, and normally I would just set it to the side. But the thing is, for all that it sometimes felt like surface-writing, that never dug too deep, it was still fun. As I said, it pulled me along very quickly, it was bright and engaging, and I was mostly able to gloss over the fact that everything was being handed to me instead of unfolding before me. (It probably helps, of course, that this is a retelling of a well-known & loved story with well-known & loved characters, so the things that were missing, I could supplement myself without even thinking about it. It was also heavily reminiscent of other JAFF I've read, so I probably plugged those elements in there, too.)

The only other thing that bothered me was the characterization, which was inconsistent and sometimes a little strained. Elizabeth, particularly, is a milquetoast, and though I can make allowances for Lizzie in this situation trying to make the most of it and "behave," as it were, I can only see her be meek and mild so much before it starts to bother me, and I want to beg for MY LIZZIE -- and I have a feeling Mr. Darcy would have the same reaction. (He did fall for her tartness, afterall.) But again, it was saved from bothering me too much by how quick and bright and fun it was.

So in the end, it's one of those weird reviews where I'm like, Look, I had issues, I'm not going to deny that, but damned if I didn't enjoy myself reading this. I flew through it and picked it up happily, so it was never one of those books where, once I put it down, I'm like, ughhh, do I have to pick it back up? It was never one where I kept counting pages to see how much more I had to slog through. No, it was flawed, as many, many Austenesque novels are flawed, but it was still damn fun despite that. And as it was the type of flawed that I think is generally overcome with time and experience, I'm certainly looking forward to seeing what Ms. James does in the future. =)

Don't forget to check out Jenetta's Austen in August guest post!

Jenetta James is the nom de plume of a lawyer, writer, mother and taker-on of too much. She grew up in Cambridge and read history at Oxford University where she was a scholar and president of the Oxford University History Society. After graduating, she took to the law and now practises full time as a barrister. Over the years she has lived in France, Hungary and Trinidad as well as her native England. Jenetta currently lives in London with her husband and children where she enjoys reading, laughing and playing with Lego. Suddenly Mrs Darcy is her first novel

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  1. LOL! I always feel so awkward when I have that feeling about a book- it had issues, but I still had a good time.

    I thought this one was rather delightful, too. I kept holding my breath waiting for the explosion that never came. I think at the time when my real life stress was high, I was totally fine with a story that didn't have many prickles.

  2. Dear Misty,
    Thank you very much for this thoughtful and engaging review - I'm really glad that you found it fun & well done on Austen in August - there are a lot of interesting posts here:-)

  3. Iiiinteresting. The premise intrigues me, but I think I'd be bothered by the 'tell not show' style. Whether the fun overrides it for me would largely depend on my mood while reading, I think, and I'd hate to have the wrong mindset and enjoy it less than I ought to. Thanks for reviewing this one!

  4. I have this book both in ebook and paperback (thank you Jenetta....I am so far behind on my TBR I am embarrassed) I can't wai to read it. I have wanted to ever since ot was released! I so want to rad it!!!! I am planning to do so very, very soon!


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