Tuesday, August 10, 2010
In Which Trai Reviews 'The Man Who Loved Pride & Prejudice'
The Book: The Man Who Loved Pride & Prejudice (previously published as Pemberley by the Sea)
The Author: Abigail Reynolds
How I Found It: It got good reviews from Austen-related sites when it was first picked up by Sourcebooks, and when it was reprinted in a cheaper mass-market edition with a gorgeous cover earlier this summer, I figured I'd take a shot on it.
The Review: Cassie Boulton's main priority is one thing and one thing only: her work as a marine biologist and a tenure-track professor. She isn't looking for romance, especially after her previous relationship was broken off due to her devotion to her work. Yet when her friend Erin wants to go to a local dance in Woods Hole, the seaside town where they spend their summers working, Cassie can't say no. Her ex-boyfriend walks in and Cassie decides to seek a dance partner--but the man she asks refuses her. Erin has lunch the next day with her own dance partner, Scott, whose best friend is, lo and behold, the man who snubbed Cassie, Calder Westing III.
As Erin's romance with Scott develops, Cassie finds herself thrown in with Calder more and more. They have a night of passion one night at the beach, but when morning comes, Cassie isn't sure how to handle their budding relationship and rejects Calder's persistence. She's determined to hide her difficult upbringing as well as a dark secret, and the possibility of not getting tenure weighs heavily on her mind. Time passes, but Cassie finds herself drawn more and more to Calder the more times they see each other. As much as the two of them want a relationship, their families and respective histories could be working against them.
Sound familiar? It's a modern-day version of Pride and Prejudice, though it mostly uses that story for inspiration behind a few key scenes. It isn't a strict modernization, which is nice, as it has become evident from other modernizations that some of the original's elements don't quite work nowadays. I really liked the way Reynolds chose to modernize certain aspects in a believable and relevant way. For example, Erin (comparable to the original's Jane) isn't simply reserved and private about her emotions; she's recently left an abusive relationship that landed her in the hospital, and her trust isn't something she's ready to give. E-mails substitute for letters. Balls are comparable to local dances and Christmas parties.
I very much enjoyed the book for the strength of its characterizations and the chemistry between Cassie and Calder. While it did seem improbable that they would coincidentally meet at so many functions in the beginning, I accepted the coincidence because I wanted to see what would happen between them. Their journey is unpredictable and interesting to follow, as the secrets in each of their pasts are revealed and they are forced to deal with familial issues. Calder's family, almost entirely made up of politicians, is sure to disapprove of Cassie, and his father will do anything to keep them apart, whereas his mother is silent and indifferent after years of repression by her husband. Mr. Westing, Calder's father and the enemy, is an interesting obstacle, though he seemed to have a little too much power as a politician at times and his threats could come off as a bit too much. The Gardiner-esque Crowleys, friends to both Cassie and Calder, were also good characters, although some more information could have been given about certain things regarding them later in the novel. Scott and Erin were a nice beta couple, though there wasn't nearly as much shown of their romance as Cassie and Calder's took center stage, and I did wish for some more details on that front.
As for the romance itself, it is well-written, though there are more than a few sex scenes that get fairly detailed, so buyer beware--this one's not for anyone below 15 or 16! There's plenty of sexual tension, just as there is in Austen, but Reynolds can take it one step further--into the bedroom. Sometimes the scenes got somewhat repetitive, but it was nice to see a relationship that built slowly from casual sex to real intimacy, as Cassie and Calder learn more about each other. Reynolds did a good job of building up the relationship slowly and carefully so that it was believable. They were both characters I liked and cared about, and the book was long enough that it didn't feel like too much crammed into too few pages.
I'd give the book four and a half stars overall; my minor complaints are that not enough information was given on some things in the end, since so much focus was put on Cassie and Calder fighting back against Calder's father. I would've liked to see a little more information on the Crowleys in regards to a specific past incident, as I mentioned before, and while we were given the ultimate resolution of Scott and Erin's relationship, we barely saw them again after that and that felt wrong; I would've liked to see a bit more of them for the book to feel more complete.
I really enjoyed this story and I'm glad to hear Reynolds is working on a sequel involving both a new set of characters and some of the old ones. Reynolds writes "variations" of Pride and Prejudice, and I've bought one of those out of curiosity, since I enjoyed her writing style here and would like to see it applied to an Austenesque work. I'd give this one a big thumbs up and a hearty recommendation to Janeites looking for a good, spicy, romantic story with memorable characters and great writing.