Wednesday, December 21, 2011

In Which Trai Reviews 'A Darcy Christmas'

The Book: A Darcy Christmas

The Authors: Carolyn Eberhart, Amanda Grange, and Sharon Lathan

How I Found It: This was last year's Christmas-themed Austen release from Sourcebooks; this year, I decided it was time to check it out from my local library.

The Review: I'm not normally one for seasonal reads, due to how crunched I am for time between finals and shopping season, but this book was my break from cooking, studying, shopping, and packing, and it did make the time pass a little faster! While I think I'm not quite suited to seeing Austen characters in novella form--I always want more time with them!--I did enjoy this book for what it was: a sweet, holiday-themed glimpse into the lives of Lizzy and Darcy. As I do with short story collections, I'll review each novella individually.

"Mr. Darcy's Christmas Carol" by Carolyn Eberhart: This anthology was Ms. Eberhart's debut, and I believe that as of yet she's still not come out with a full-length novel. I wish she would! This story was really delightful and, while there was a bit of hyperbole I wasn't sure worked, I enjoyed the clever twists and seeing how characters from Pride & Prejudice fit in the beloved tale of A Christmas Carol.

This story deviates from canon a slight bit by having Darcy alone the Christmas after he's resolved the Wickham/Lydia affair and Jane and Bingley have said their vows and gotten married. Since then, he and Elizabeth have only had an awkward encounter when they stood up together as best man and maid of honor at the wedding, and on Christmas Eve, Darcy is alone save for Georgiana, and not in a very festive mood. When he goes out to join some friends at a club, Darcy gets uncharacteristically drunk--and, upon his return, sees the ghost of his dead father!

Old Mr. Darcy has a message for his son: he must change his ways and overcome his pride, or he will have a restless afterlife where he will observe the spirits of people he could have helped and didn't. His goodwill towards the citizens of Pemberley has him standing in some good stead, but it won't be enough to save him. If he wants a chance at true salvation, he will have to look at Christmases of past, present, and future... and reexamine his feelings for Elizabeth, before it's too late.

I'll confess that I've not read the original A Christmas Carol (and that is loaded onto TARDIS, waiting to be read), but I've seen numerous adaptations enough times to recognize the dialogue and important scenes from the original, and everything that mattered was present here. The choices for the spirits--key players in Darcy's life--were inspired, and it was touching to see Darcy's remembrances of childhood Christmases, for the past, and Christmases abroad for the present (including a delightful appearance from another Austen couple, though I won't say who!). The Christmas future was a bit... unbelievable, I will say that. I highly doubt that Elizabeth's rejection would be the path to Darcy making a supremely loveless marriage, basically disowning Georgiana and leaving her son to grow up in poverty, and then dying alone. But the rest of the tale was superb, so I'll let it slide.

There's not too much of Darcy and Elizabeth interacting, as the tale is focused heavily on Darcy's self-improvement, but his reconciliation scene with Elizabeth was a clever reworking of their final scenes in the original, and probably my favorite rendering of that reconciliation in any variation thus far (the snow! the mistletoe!). This story was my favorite of the three, and I hope that Ms. Eberhart comes out with a full-length novel in the future: I'd read it!

"Christmas Present" by Amanda Grange: The shortest of the three novellas, more of a short story, this story involves Darcy and Elizabeth expecting their first child, and Darcy's anxieties about the process of childbirth. Bingley and Jane have just had their own child, and Elizabeth wishes to see the child and the Bingleys' new home. Darcy is worried the journey will be too much for her, as she is close to giving birth, but Elizabeth assures him she'll be fine, and they make the trip.

Upon arriving at the new house, they find Bingley and Jane quite happy with their new arrival--and Caroline Bingley quite happy with running the household while Jane is indisposed. She has arranged a ball, and the Bennets are to come, as are Lady Catherine and Mr. Collins--and, Mrs. Bennet has heard, Mr. Collins' brother. Mrs. Bennet has a scheme: marrying Kitty off to said brother so that when both Mr. Bennet and Mr. Collins die, Longbourn will be theirs again. This Christmas will be marked by matchmaking and new arrivals, and no one will ever forget it.

This one definitely made me laugh the most: it's hard not to laugh when you've got the Bennets, Lady Catherine, and Caroline Bingley in one household. Caroline would invite herself and take on the planning for parties and house-buying Charles and Jane aren't even sure they want. Mr. Bennet would be snarking in the background. And Lady Catherine's complaining from outside upon her arrival would be audible indoors.

I think I liked this one for the insight into Darcy's anxieties. Georgiana's birth years earlier and his mother's subsequent decline has left him with a great fear of childbirth and what it might do to Elizabeth, and it was almost heartbreaking to see him agonizing about how childbirth might deprive Elizabeth of her favorite activities, like walking and dancing. I'm also a great fan of Darcy and Bingley's friendship, and it was sweet to see them commiserating over their fears. (An amusing passage recounts Bingley's reaction upon hearing his child cry for the first time, and it was certainly true to form.)

I wish Ms. Grange would follow this one up with a full novel or another story or two: I want to learn more about Kitty's delightful suitor! This was a sweet story that could have done with just a few extra pages, but otherwise, it was a nice glimpse into a holiday with the whole clan.

"A Darcy Christmas" by Sharon Lathan: This was the most wide-ranging of all the stories: Ms. Lathan shows us several Christmases with the Darcy family, over a period of about twenty-five years. It begins with Darcy reflecting on his loneliness at Christmas and wondering if he has indeed fallen for Elizabeth Bennet, before showing their honeymoon and, later, subsequent Christmases as their family grows and, once, loses a beloved member. We see the children receiving their gifts, engaging in sibling rivalry, getting stuck away from home as a result of a carriage accident, and eventually, establishing new traditions. Through it all, Darcy and Elizabeth endure together.

I wasn't expecting the Darcys to have quite so many children--I had to keep flipping back to keep track of them--but it was cute to see the differences in their personalities and, eventually for a few of them, their rapport with their chosen matches. Their antics on various Christmases--listening to Darcy read various holiday stories, receiving tons of presents, and overall just antagonizing each other as siblings should--were fun to read about and just what I expected of the Darcy children. My favorite chapter, though, was the most somber of all, when the resurfacing of a childhood memento causes Elizabeth to finally grieve for a recent loss, and needs Darcy for emotional support. It was true to form for Elizabeth--not wanting her grief to drag down the holiday for the others--and for Darcy, who waits for the dam to break with concern and, eventually, a tender sharing of his own experiences with loss and how to get past it.

Some details did become slightly repetitive--Elizabeth's numerous pregnancies, the number of times some characters grunt in assent to some statement--and the descriptions were sometimes too lavish, but it was nice, overall, to have a picture of the Darcys as their married life advanced and their family grew in number.

While the anthology was a sweet holiday treat, I did find that it lacked the balance customary in a full-length novel: it is, like Pride & Prejudice, "light, bright, and sparkling," and I found that I wanted a bit more conflict and a bit more drama. As a diversion, however, the stories were a nice seasonal treat, and I did enjoy them for the short glimpses into the lives of one of my favorite literary couples. Recommended for those who want a glimpse at the Darcy family holidays, or even those who might want a taste of winter when it's out of season!

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