Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Weekend with Mr. Darcy

Everyone has his or her own personal guilty pleasure and I firmly believe we should indulge it as frequently as possible - make it your celebration of life! Here at Guilty Indulgence Book Club, obviously we take our books seriously (even when they are sometimes not so serious!). For many in the new year, it is a time to make resolutions, plans, envision the new future ahead of them. For me, I take a look behind and revisit the past. Here and now, I will make a confession to you all about one of my longest running guilty pleasures: I LOVE MR. DARCY!

Long, long ago, in high school, I received a summer reading list which contained (gasp!) classics and the feedback from my father was immediate when I pointed them out for his input (figuring he was both well read and wise). His response regarding Jane Austen was less than stellar and I was so apprehensive about reading Pride And Prejudice that I made it the last on the list. I discovered at that time that he and I differed drastically in our opinions of what constituted a "great story"! I adored it, gobbled it up and re-read it three times on our summer vacation to my grandparents. (I even forewent a trip to Smith Island so I could stay behind and re-read it on the dock.) My father thought I was mental. I knew I was in love. With Mr. Darcy. The proud, arrogant, selfishly loyal, brooding hero of my dreams...

Proudly now, some quarter of a century later, I have taken the pilgrimage to Jane's great work annually (yes, that means I have read P&P more than 30 times). I also have seen every version made in film (yes, Colin Firth rocks my stripey socks!)and also every spin off, spoof, thinly linked fictional tale and many biographies of dear Jane and literary studies of her short but fabulous booklist. Check out this latest read by a new to me author, Victoria Connelly.

A Weekend With Mr. Darcy, Victoria Connelly, Sourcebooks Landmark, July 2011
Of course she's obsessed with Jane Austen...

Surrounded by appalling exes and fawning students, the only thing keeping professor Katherine Roberts sane is Jane Austen and her personal secret love for racy Regency romance novels. She thinks the Jane Austen Addicts conference in the English countryside is the perfect opportunity to escape her chaotic life and finally relax...

But then she encounters a devilishly handsome man at the conference who seems determined to sweep her off her feet. Is he more fiction than fact? Or could he be the hero she didn't know she was looking for?

This deceptively simple tale of a Austen fan's weekend would, I think, do our great writer proud. Set over the course of a long weekend, A Weekend With Mr. Darcy, tells the tales within a tale - a story about a group of Janeites gathering at a conference to celebrate all things Jane on one level and two simultaneous love stories brewing out of it on another level. Katherine and Warwick's relationship runs the gamut from farcical misunderstandings to deeper deceit and becomes the true testament to love overcoming pride. Robyn and Dan's relationship stumbles through the surprise of instant attraction and "love at first sight" and explores love overcoming stasis, fear and the small impediment of Jace, Robyn's outgrown boyfriend.

The storyline is a fresh take on several Austenian plot lines - modernized enough to feel every bit the present day in which it's set. The setting is brilliant, hosted by an eccentric famous actress, Dame Pamela, at her Regency era manor home, Purley Hall. With the descriptions of Hampshire and Winchester, where dear Jane once lived, the modern and historical elements blend seamlessly. The primary characters feel very multi-dimensional and are very sympathetic with their angsty issues and impediments to finding love and happiness. The secondary characters are every bit at colorful and wacky as those in any Jane Austen tale. It is hard not to compare Connelly with her muse, as this work is so obviously inspired by the writings of Jane Austen, and yet it does not attempt to replicate or reincarnate her stories. They are delightfully Austeneque without being shameless forgeries. At times a rollicking romp, at other times a solid romance tale, this reader thoroughly enjoyed A Weekend with Mr. Darcy and it certainly fed the guilty indulgence that is loving Darcy!

RATING: Five deliciously Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries, preferably served at high tea, in the Pump Room in Bath, England, with scones and clotted cream and a pot of properly brewed tea! Sigh.......
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