Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book Review: Definitely Not Mr. Darcy

By Gail Allison
In Karen Doornebos’ debut novel “Definitely Not Mr. Darcy,” she seamlessly blends the past and the present in a plot centred on a modern-day reality dating show that is set in 1812. Her characters are likeable and relatable, and her Regency-era details are so well-researched and so well documented that I ended up learning all the way through the book! (Who knew that wooden slats were slid down the front of stays, or corsets, to enhance the wearer’s shape? Not me, that’s for certain.)

Chloe Parker doesn’t have it easy. This Jane Austen aficionado is a divorced mother, 39 years old, and her antique letterpress business is falling prey to the ease and economy of modern printing. She’s floundering in life and looking for answers, when one falls into her lap. Why shouldn’t she audition for a documentary set in the 1800s? After all, she adores everything about that century...or so she thinks.

Leaving her daughter with her parents, Chloe sets off for England, but when she arrives she finds that so many things are not what they seem. What she thought was a documentary turns out to be a reality dating show in which eight women are competing not only for the $100,000 in prize money, but also for a chance to win the hand of Sebastian Wrightman: heir to an incredible estate. After wrestling with her decision, Chloe decides to step up and try her hand at life in 1812 along with the rest of the competitors, with some unexpected results.

You know what didn’t exist in 1812? Cell phones. Email. Deodorant. Minty toothpaste. Daily baths. Chloe learns all this (and more) quickly as she’s thrust into the rigors of 1812 life through not only detail-perfect backdrop and setup thanks to the show’s producers, but also through a series of accomplishments that ladies of the day would have completed regularly. The accomplishments earn the competitors points that translate into precious time spent (with chaperones of course!) with Mr. Wrightman.

I did find this a bit tough to get into right at the very beginning. Some of the phrasing and sentences through the opening of the book tend to run on a touch. Personally, I find it a bit disheartening when I’m reading something light and fluffy and I have to go back and re-read sentences because they’ve gone on for so long. Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad that I did. Once the dialogue picked up a little more, “Definitely Not Mr. Darcy” carried on quite comfortably. The detail in the opening pages is not to be missed, however it does cause the book to start out feeling a bit clunky.

As the novel carried on, I found myself drawn in and cheering for Chloe. She finds the courage and the heart that she was missing back in America, and I was pleasantly surprised to find the ending was not clichéd nor was it a let-down. It was charming and well-presented, as was most of this novel.

Overall, I truly enjoyed Ms. Doornebos’ first novel. She really knows her Jane Austen-era stuff, and isn’t afraid to show it. I also enjoyed how nearly all of the Austen references and 19th century accoutrements were explained in the book. It was never enough to make me feel dumb, but just enough so that I realized I had learned something but still enjoyed the novel once I finally put it down. This is a must-read for anyone who thinks the 1800s were all about bodice-ripping romance and sweeping gowns (hint: they weren’t). Loads of fun!

This is Gail's first official review for Chick Lit Central! We are excited to hear more about her thoughts on the latest novels.

Karen Doornebos will be visiting CLC in September and will be doing a giveaway at that time. Stay tuned!

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Anonymous said...

I definitely need to read this book. I love all the Jane Austen themed books that have been coming out in the past few years!

Karen Doornebos said...

Thank you, Gail, for a great review! Glad you enjoyed the book. Wishing you many wonderful books in your future as a new reviewer for Chick Lit Central!

@Cate, hope you enjoy the book! I agree it's fabulous to see so many Jane Austen-inspired books out there!

Rebecca (RivkaBelle) said...

I'm excited about this addition to the Austen-oriented fiction arena :o)