Wednesday, September 9, 2020

"Engaging Mr. Darcy" by Rachel John

Jane Austen might be surprised, but more than two centuries after her death, she’s responsible for a large and growing publishing empire.

Not only do her own novels remain popular, they have spawned countless offshoots: contemporary retellings, science fiction Austen, mystery Austen, television Austen, movie Austen, non-fiction studies Austen, and even Zombie Austen. If nothing else, this publishing and popular media outpouring is a tribute to how much her books are still loved and admired.

Engaging Mr. Darcy by Rachel John falls into the “contemporary retelling” category. It’s Pride and Prejudice, updated as a contemporary romance. It includes all the familiar characters and the familiar story line, even if they’re in unfamiliar roles. 

Elsie Bennet lives and works with her sister Jane in a small California town. They’re operating an increasingly successful mail-order T-shirt business out of their home; Elsie also works part-time at a pizza parlor famous for its bad food. They have three other sisters who live with their parents. One sister, Lydia, is a flighty spendthrift who’s convinced she’ll make it big in movies.

Rachel John
Into the pizza parlor one night wanders Will (short for Fitzwilliam) Darcy, who is renting a home in town for a few months with his best friend Charlie Bingley. Will and Elsie clash immediately over a pizza order, and the relationship stays frosty after Charlie begins to date Jane. Charlie’s something of a butterfly – dating girls for a short time and then moving on. Charlie’s sister Caroline is intent on landing Will, but Will remains steadfastly uninterested. He does find himself becoming interested in Elsie, but the two are oil and water. 

Elsie’s mother hopes that Elsie will settle down with that nice Will Collins, who’s just won the lottery and become filthy rich. Will’s finances are being managed by Will’s aunt, Catherine DuBourg, a financial planner. Catapulting into this sea of romantic stories in Jeff Wickham, who seems intent on pursuing Elsie and Lydia simultaneously and aggravating Will Darcy as much as possible. 

John has written several romance novels, including two others derived from Jane Austen books, including Emma the Matchmaker and Persuading the Captain. Other novels are grouped in the “Matched by Mistake” and “A Change in Plans” series. She’s also written several children’s stories.

Engaging Mr. Darcy ends predictably, just like the original story it’s based on. But it is a fun romp through Jane Austen retold as (somewhat) California cool. 

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