“[Mr Darcy]’s not actually real – you are” – Emily Albright to Spike
I took a trip back to Sydney and, in Elizabeth’s secondhand Bookstore in Newtown, found an $8.80 secondhand paperback copy of the 2007 romance-fiction style Me and Mr Darcy by Alexandra Potter. Of course, I bought it. Unfortunately, having now read it, I think Ms Potter does herself a disservice with this novel. ISBN: 978-0345502544
There’s chick lit, and then there’s chick lit with an Austen theme, and I have higher standards for the latter than the former. She can certainly write, and it’s not stilted sentences or awkward descriptions that bothered me, but it was the storyline in this chicklit beach read that had me screaming “too much, too much!” (even though I kept racing through the pages). The storyline is simple, at first glance. Emily Albright is a 20-something New York bookstore manager whose friend, Stella, wants to take her to some Mexican glaring-lights-and-drinks singles resort. She quickly grabs a flyer and, conveniently, this die-hard Jane Austen fan books herself onto an Austen tour in the UK. She meets Spike, a journalist writing about Mr Darcy, and meets the real Mr Darcy herself.
This is where we trip up. Ms Potter tries to put absolutely every possible Austen fanfiction spinoff technique into this book, with this frantic energy that feels as though she thinks she’ll never be able to write about Jane Austen ever again. We have a parallel modern-day Pride and Prejudice storyline taking place between Spike and Emily (and painfully over-explained as similar events happen), we have a tour of Jane Austen’s life, we have a time-travelling-style Mr Darcy appearing in several instances, we have Emily potentially fitting into gaps in the Pride and Prejudice plot and we also have Ms Steine who (spoiler alert) is basically Jane Austen – fitting her portrait, as well as having a name anagram. It’s a complete free-for-all. We even have the ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged’ introductory line.
This back-and-forth confused plot situation really bothered me – choosing one or two of these elements would have been fine in the novel – but add to it some irritatingly contrived situations, and you have the makings of a small nightmare. Everything is so ridiculously perfect, for instance Rose (another tour member) becoming an investor so that Emily can own the bookshop and even the “makeover” scene at the famed TopShop.
What also irritated me was the entire concept of Spike’s assignment. We get to read the ‘story’ he comes back with at the end of the trip – a poorly composed piece considering he spent almost a week on the tour and interviewed all the members thoroughly – and it’s unclear why the paper, said to be one of the UKs most established, would ever want a non-story of this nature that borders on self-indulgent. Painful.
I did enjoy some of the culture clashes between the old-fashioned Mr Darcy and Emily Albright. I also very much enjoyed the chapter where Emily, Maeve, Spike and a few others head to the local pub – it had a really natural, nice feel about it. Unfortunately, these scenes were few and far between. Emily really grates with her hopelessness on occasion – randomly falling asleep in a field, tuning out, not knowing what black pudding is etc.
In saying all that, I still read it the whole way through, and if it had just been romantic chicklit fiction without the Jane Austen backdrop I doubt I’d find it as objectionable as I do at the moment. There were some irritating pointing-out-of-the-obvious parallels, which were really unnecessary – particularly as the book is clearly aimed towards those who are Pride and Prejudice and Austen fans. It was nice to read some Austen passages, and learn some of the historical details about Bath and the surrounds, but this continual pointing out was unnecessary. Similarly, there is one page where the words ‘First Impressions’, ‘Pride’ and ‘Prejudice’ come up a number of times.
It was also sad not to get much about the other Pride and Prejudice characters. Of course, I should have already expected this given the title of the book, but it would have been nice to have gained a bit more about them.
Yorkshire-born Alexandra Potter, interestingly enough, seems to gather some fairly positive reviews internet-wide. In fact this one won the Best New Fiction award at the Jane Austen Regency World Awards.
Apparently there’s a sequel to this, called Me and Mr Darcy Again in the Jane Austen Made Me Do It anthology – but it obviously didn’t stick out to me as I don’t remember it particularly, I’ll have to go back and have a look when I’m in Sydney with the collection.
Have you read it? Did you like it?