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An Austen pastiche you won't want to miss
Following her successful novel Jane Austen Ruined My Life, author Beth Pattillo continues to capitalize on the recent Austen renaissance with Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart. Here she mixes academia and romance in a combination that will prove irresistible for chick lit fans and Austen aficionados alike.Claire Prescott, recently fired from her job as an office manager, takes her sister’s place at a Pride and Prejudice seminar in Oxford, England, despite knowing next to nothing about Jane Austen. Initially feeling out of her depth and disgruntled about attending a stodgy conference, Claire’s overseas excursion becomes more interesting when she meets James, a dashingly handsome yet annoyingly aloof publishing executive attending the seminar. At the same time, she finds herself in the midst of a conflict involving Harriet Dalrymple, a slightly offbeat little old lady, and what appears to be a very early lost Jane Austen manuscript in which Lizzie Bennett chooses someone other than Mr. Darcy. When Claire’s somewhat lackluster boyfriend, Neil, unexpectedly arrives on the scene, Claire finds herself struggling to decide once and for all who she’ll cast as her leading man.
Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart succeeds for several reasons, but part of its charm is surely due to Claire. A truly accessible heroine, neither saccharine nor born with a silver spoon in her mouth, Claire has faced adversity—and is someone readers will easily and eagerly root for. The catharsis Claire ultimately finds is touching and real, and allows her personal growth at the novel’s end to feel genuine and well deserved.
With its successful blend of grand romance, piercing humor and deeply felt emotions, Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart is a worthy homage to Jane Austen. The mystery storyline involving a possible lost manuscript makes for a multilayered reading experience, and boosts the novel beyond a simple, if spirited, modernization of Austen’s own revered story, while also setting it apart from the host of Austen-inspired novels clamoring for attention. Both the romance and the mystery storylines have surprising and amusing conclusions that will make readers feel that, as with any of Austen’s own novels, their time has been well spent.
Linda White is a writer and editor living in St. Paul, Minnesota.