Monday, August 25, 2014
Undressing Mr. Darcy
By: Karen Doornebos
Vanessa is a workaholic, public relations genius with little time for love or leisure. If she can't tweet it, hastag it, or distill it into a succinct sound bite, it isn't worth her time or attention. The only exception is her beloved Aunt Ella, the grand dame of the local Jane Austen Society chapter and the one familial constant in Vanessa's life since childhood. But now, with Ella facing a diagnosis of dementia, her aunt has enlisted her niece's help to make this year's Jane Austen Society convention the best yet, a fitting swan song for a woman who has devoted her life to all things Jane. So what if Vanessa barely knows her Bennets from her Dashwoods? She's determined to bring the full force of her expertise to bear on the situation and make the convention shine, for work at least keeps her too busy to ponder a future without the only family she's ever known.
The scheduled highlight of the conference is guest speaker Julian Chancellor, author of the memoir My Year as Mr. Darcy. Within the book this real life Darcy details his quest to the live the life of a true Regency gentleman, bringing history to life in his accompanying promotional talk, provocatively -- and very literally -- titled "Undressing Mr. Darcy." Pure catnip for Austen aficiandos, the show sees Chancellor perform a "historical" striptease, all in the name of historical authenticity, and all for a good cause -- restoring Chancellor's crumbling family home. Vanessa never expected to find a man the very antithesis of everything modern that she embraces so attractive. As she finds herself succumbing to the romance and allure of the Austen mystique, Vanessa finds herself questioning everything she thought she wanted and the truths she held as fact -- but in her eagerness to embrace this new way of life, will she lose sight of what matters most?
I love a good chick lit novel, and it's a well-established fact that I adore all things Austen-related, so when I stumbled across Undressing Mr. Darcy I was sold. The cover alone is sheer perfection -- the little black dress, the pop of red, the provocative title -- I eagerly bought the package hook, line, and sinker. However, what I discovered within the pages of Doornebos's chick-lit flavored homage to Jane Austen was something several degrees less effervescent and sparkling than I'd hoped.
Doornebos knows the world of Austenites, and takes great delight in expounding on her knowledge on the page ad nauseum. As Vanessa, who has spent most of her life scorning anything Austen-related, throws herself into the conference, she finds herself intrigued by Julian Chancellor's apparent affinity for an old school, technologically free existence -- and his enticing, unorthodox presentation of a Regency gentleman's most intimate habits doesn't hurt, either. But as Vanessa immerses herself in the conference and begins to experience for herself the timeless allure of Austen's life and works, the narrative veers into pedantic territory. If I wanted a lecture about Austen's life and works, I'd attend a conference myself or read a non-fiction title. The more heavy-handed approach taken here grinds the narrative momentum to a halt.
Character-wise, I appreciate the fact that Vanessa was clearly a pro at her job, and I thought the social media "hashtags" sprinkled throughout the narrative were a fun, if slightly over-used, nod to the electronic realities of modern life. And I ADORED Vanessa's relationship with her delightfully eccentric Aunt Ella. Though she doesn't delve too deeply into the heartbreaking realities faced by families coping with a dementia diagnosis, Doornebos does touch on those struggles -- from living arrangements to memory loss -- which adds a welcome note of emotional gravitas to the storyline. Where the novel falters is in Vanessa's overall arc and romantic interests.
The novel is roughly divided into three sections: the stateside conference, Vanessa's visit to the UK, and back again. For the first portion of the novel, Vanessa remains relatively true to her introduction -- she's intrigued by Julian (who wouldn't be?), but at her core she's still a driven professional...just one with a few new, attractive "distractions" in her life. But Julian is a poorly-realized Darcy stand-in, as early on something seemed "off" in his interactions with Vanessa, so it was frustrating to see this supposedly smart, savvy businesswoman swallow is act wholesale. It's even more frustrating to witness when there is a PERFECTLY AMAZING SECOND OPTION waiting in the wings. Chase may moonlight as a pirate and lack a British accent, but he is SOLID GOLD and accredited by Vanessa's family and friends. As attractive a dream as Darcy coming to life is, there is no contest here -- which makes Vanessa's insistence on mistaking "proximity for intimacy" all the more frustrating.
Undressing Mr. Darcy is a study in missed opportunities. This is a novel that wants to be a fluffy, humorous chick lit but lacks the sparkle that one not only expects from such but that I would argue is an absolutely necessary component! The pieces are in place, and there are moments of golden humor (the reaction Julian's performance garners at the conference is hilarious), but I couldn't help but think that they needed to be culled by a good scriptwriter and transferred to a film. Clocking in at nearly 400 pages, Undressing Mr. Darcy has an unfortunate tendency to crawl when it should zing with energy, leading to a lot of skim-reading -- a frustrating reality given the cute concept and the appeal of Vanessa's American love interest. There's lots to like here, not the least being Doornebos's passion for Austen and Austenites, but unfortunately the resulting story left me cold. (For the record, I still ADORE the cover!)
About the book:
Taking it off in the name of history…
Thirty-five-year-old American social media master Vanessa Roberts lives her thoroughly modern life with aplomb. So when her elderly Jane Austen–centric aunt needs her to take on the public relations for Julian Chancellor, a very private man from England who’s written a book called My Year as Mr. Darcy, Vanessa agrees. But she’s not “excessively diverted,” as Jane Austen would say.
Hardbound books, teacups, and quill pens fly in the face of her e-reader, coffee, and smartphone…
…Until she sees Julian take his tight breeches off for his Undressing Mr. Darcy show, an educational “striptease” down to his drawers to promote his book and help save his crumbling estate. The public relations expert suddenly realizes things have gotten…personal. But can this old-fashioned man claim her heart without so much as a GPS? It will take three festivals filled with Austen fans, a trip to England, an old frenemy, and a flirtatious pirate re-enactor to find out…
Friday, August 22, 2014
Tomorrow!! TOMORROW CAN'T GET HERE SOON ENOUGH!!! Peter Capaldi will finally, FINALLY, at long last make his debut as the Twelfth Doctor and I am so excited I can't even begin to express it!!
Is anyone going to see it in theaters? I'll be watching on BBC America.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
This Sunday on PBS, Masterpiece begins airing Breathless, a three-part series about the doctors and nurses of a 1960s London ob-gyn hospital ward. And it stars Jack Davenport!! Squee!!
I've read mixed reviews of this series, as apparently it was conceived as an on-going drama, and part three supposedly ends on something of a cliffhanger -- and the show wasn't renewed. But I could really care less, because HELLO JACK DAVENPORT and a dishy '60s setting and lots and lots of DRAMA (if the previews are any indication)...all catnip for this viewer so I'll definitely be watching!
Scene from Episode 1:
*Photo copyright Masterpiece/ITV. No copyright infringement intended.
Friday, August 15, 2014
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Last weekend I went to see The Hundred-Foot Journey -- if you haven't made plans to see this film yet, for the love GO! It is just exquisite. A lovely, lovely film. I had the pleasure of reviewing it for BreakPoint, and you can read my article here.
Helen Mirren is pitch-perfect (as is her norm). Also, the Manish Dayal? Best. Smile. EVER.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
I have a tumblr, if anyone is interested in that sort of thing (I know, I'm super late to that party). It's mostly a lot of Once Upon a Time GIF sets right now, because WHY NOT?!, but if anyone has any good recs for Doctor Who or Grimm or other BBC show-related sites let me know in the comments or on tumblr...much appreciated!