Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Source: Review Copy from Publisher
TYPE OF AUSTENESQUE NOVEL: Modern-day Retelling, Gender Swap
SETTING: New York City, Present-day
- John and Bennet Bethle: Two brothers who work in the development department at the Longbourn Collection (a small art museum in Queens)
- Charlotte “Bingley’ Bingston: A socialite heiress who has just rented the penthouse at the illustrious Netherfield hotel
- Darcy Fitzwilliam: Bingley’s wealthy but proud friend
- Mr. Meryton: John and Bennet’s boss who falls over himself to court donors and is often in a tizzy over the prospect of receiving donations and connections from the wealthy upper-crust
WHY I WANTED TO READ THIS NOVEL:
- I’ve read and enjoyed two other Pride and Prejudice retellings that are gender swap – Vanity and Vexation and Love at First Slight, and wanted to try another!
- Lynn Messina is a new author for me and I love stories that take place in New York City!
WHAT I LOVED:
- 😉 I See What You Did There: I loved seeing the parallels between this story and Pride and Prejudice, many were very well thought-out and creative. Such as our two heroes work in a small, “out-of-the-way” art museum in need of funding. Having such “middle class” professions that were dependent on the generosity and support of the wealthy created the same stigma and lack of consequence as being two daughters without impressive dowries and connections in Jane Austen’s day. I also loved the brilliant wordplay around Redcoat Designs and the descriptions of Celia’s tennis game.
- Mr. Meryton: One of my favorite gender-swaps is Mr. Meryton (Mrs. Bennet). His garrulousness, knowledge of patrons’ net worth, and adulation of the wealthy were spot-on representations of Mrs. Bennet. What a brilliant choice! Instead of hunting wealthy gentleman to marry her daughters, Mr. Meryton is chasing wealthy heiresses to write checks for his museum.
- Collin Parsons: Lolzzzzz! This character did not receive a gender-swap, but he did receive a personality swap. Collin is Catherine de Bourgh’s (apparently she refused to swap genders) gay nephew. Instead of a sycophant oozing obsequiousness, he is a sarcastic trust fund baby who has no choice but to follow his aunt’s orders because she administers his trust. It was hilarious to know that his veneration and flattery were more ironic than sincere.
WHAT I WASN’T TOO FOND OF:
- Some Speeches Fit, Some Don’t: As one often sees in retellings, there are phrases and sentences borrowed from Jane Austen’s original text. I have no issues with authors doing this – it is always a fun diversion to play “spot the Jane Austen quote!” I thought there were several great instances where Ms. Messina borrowed or played with text from Pride and Prejudice – one of my favorites being: “Any young woman in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a committee to chair.” However, some uses of Jane Austen’s text, like during the declaration and refusal, felt a little out of place and unnatural.
- Not Quite Men of Action: What does John do when Bingley goes to London? Nothing. What does Bennet do after receiving Darcy’s email? Nothing. While Jane and Elizabeth, restricted by their gender and the society of their day, could not pursue or initiate contact with Bingley and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, the same limitations don’t really exist for John and Bennet. So when they both didn’t make any contact with the women they were interested in it felt a weak, passive, and was a bit of a turn-off. (Yes, making contact might be awkward, but c’mon…be a man!)
NOTE: There is some (2-3) uses of strong language, so I’d recommend this book for Mature Audiences.
Written with skill and creativity, this novel was a very diverting and unique read! Gender-swapping characters that lived two hundred years ago is definitely not an easy task and I thought Lynn Messina did a marvelous job navigating these complicated waters and delivering a story that is plausible, entertaining, and inventive.