Saturday, 15 January 2011

Mr Darcy Broke my Heart by Beth Pattillo

Still on my Regency theme - but a modern twist, with this one!

Claire Prescott travels from the US to Oxford university for a Pride and Prejudice Summer School.  She's taking the place of her Austenophile sister who is unable to travel, but she's probably not the best person to do so as she has only a sketchy knowledge of the author and her books.
Claire is having a difficult life, she's brought up her sister, Missy, by herself after the death of her parents, has just lost a fairly mediocre job and has a nice, but inattentive and dull boyfriend.  She realises that this could be a fresh start and she can be whoever she wants to be amongst a load of strangers that she'll never see again.
Soon after arriving she meets a tall, dark and aloof stranger.  Is this her Darcy?  She also meets the eccentric Harriet Dalrymple, who claims to have a first draft of P&P and is eager to share it with her.  As the week progresses Claire becomes fascinated by the very different version of events in Harriet's manuscripts, how will it turn out for Lizzie Bennet? But there's also her own developing romance and conflicting feelings for James (potential Darcy) and Neil (safe boyfriend) the ongoing subterfuge by others to get their hands on the valuable manuscript.

I think there's a danger that I've made the book sound better than it really is...
True, it has great potential, but it just didn't work for me.  Firstly, Claire is wet; she is moping about her parents death, trying to run her sister's life and being a general doormat.  She is so pathetic and uninteresting that the fact that she managed to get on a plane and find Oxford was a genuine surprise to me.  She shows no improvement through the story and needs a backbone, not P&P.
As soon as she arrives she meets a handsome man who she has immediate "chemistry" with without knowing anything other than he's rich, good looking and a bit pompous. James is a stereotype strong, silent type, but again shows no charm or wit to be a potential engaging character.  The fact that he has another agenda is immediately obvious to all but Claire.  However, she wafts gently around Oxford, and there's lots of description of the city, but I don't know how reliable it is as I've only visited once, and meets a mad old bird who practically holds her hostage to read the first draft of P&P.  It's all too contrived and convenient to believe.
There's no character development - everyone is a cardboard cut out, the dialogue is laboured and I just didn't care!  It managed to be both cold and superficial and "twee - Lil' ol' England" all at the same time.
However, the best bit (and how it manages to get any stars at all!) was the alternative version of P&P where Mr Bennet dies and Elizabeth seeks employment by becoming companion to Anne de Bourgh and meets Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam at Rosings.  I found this interesting as a "what if" exercise, and though not brilliantly written, was enough to make me read on.
Overall, it read like fan-fiction and just didn't live up to expectations.  With a title like this you'd expect most readers to have a pretty good knowledge of Austen, but the constant explanation provided by the character of Martin (a professor in Austen) was patronising and stalled what little bit of plot development was there.
I could be kind and give it an extra star for the attractive cover, but as the picture had absolutely no relevance to what happens in the book anyway, I just can't! 2 stars and won't bother with any others by this author.