July 13, 2018

DITCHING MR. DARCY by Samantha Whitman

What would you do if you crashed your car into a ditch and woke up as the main character of your favorite book?  What if nothing happened the way it was supposed to?  What if you met the dreamiest romantic hero in literary history and yet you fell in love with someone else instead?  What would happen if you never woke up again?  What would happen if you did?  Elizabeth Baker is about to find out.

I wanted to love this book.  I read reviews online and a trusted Austen-themed website gave it kudos.  I wanted to love it so much.  But ultimately I found myself in a back and forth relationship with it - - I enjoyed the beginning and the end but the middle left me a bit wanting.
The good.  I love, love, love books that revisit Pride and Prejudice and its beloved characters.  I really can't get enough.  With Ditching Mr. Darcy, we not only revisit them but have a modern-day girl who is transported into Queen Jane's fictional Meryton, Longbourn, Netherfield, Hunsford, Rosings, and Pemberley.  A most excellent diversion.
Our heroine's discovery, as the fan-favorite Elizabeth Bennet, that life in Regency England is not exactly as the movies showcase is quite funny.  What modern woman wouldn't be worrying about using a chamber pot, brushing their teeth with chalk and salt, performing then-popular dances and, perhaps most especially, pining for their mascara?   Reading of her floundering with daily activities (what? no underwear?) gave me a very real chuckle.  As well as the "reality" of what the P&P characters were truly like, as she found out.
Author Samantha Whitman takes creative license with our P&P standbys and I'm okay with the  majority of it.  I'm not an absolute Austen purist . . . but I found while reading this book that I do have a line in the sand (more on that later.)  Seeing some characters are more adventurous than Austen penned them, or perhaps even portrayed as inaccurately irredeemable, was an interesting twist.
And here it is.  What I struggled with.
First, and maybe most importantly, I had difficulty with our heroine.  I liked Elizabeth Baker as her present day self well enough - - although I didn't understand her very clear and quickly verbalized dislike of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice (the Colin Firth version.)  She never explained why she disliked it or held the 2005 version superior.  Everyone has their own tastes, sure, but even a throwaway line about how she saw the 2005 version first could have explained it, especially given that she stated several times how much she didn't like the 1995 P&P.  A minor gripe, really, but it still stuck with me.
Where the heroine lost me was when she found herself as Elizabeth Bennet.  This was a woman who claimed Jane Austen was her favorite author and who adored P&P and yet she got every. single. thing. wrong.  In the very beginning, I could give her a pass for her use of modern words like "okay," "guy," "jerk," etc., but not after she had been in Regency England for more than a few days.  It bugged me that the P&P characters did not take any issue with her terminology, nor question her about it for the most part.   She also continually addressed persons like Caroline Bingley as "Caroline," something that would never have been done or accepted given their (frosty) relationship.  She should have been addressed as "Miss Bingley" and any of the characters, including Caroline Bingley herself, would quickly have questioned Elizabeth's familiarity and lack of propriety.
I also began ticking off mentally how many times Elizabeth gaped, sneered, smirked and rolled her eyes.  And then quit when it became too much.  Again, the real Elizabeth Bennet may have rolled her eyes to her father over the ridiculous uproar in the Bennet household but she never would have done so in mixed company, nor been outright rude as Elizabeth Baker as Elizabeth Bennet was.  I hate to say it but she made Elizabeth Bennet downright unlikable.  I found myself feeling infuriated with her most of the time.
For someone who, again, claimed to be such an aficionado of Jane Austen and her works, she continued to make mistakes that she should not have, which resulted in a major ripple effect on the plotline.  While that can succeed (see Lost in Austen) the result here made me feel discombobulated and I found I didn't appreciate the plot change as I think I was intended to.  Maybe if Elizabeth had intentionally veered off the normal path, telling herself "it's a dream," or "it's not real anyhow," it would have been more tolerable for me.  But as she was somewhat continuously telling herself that certain characters would end up together and/or had to be together per Austen's book, her actions seemed to make little sense.  And telling Wickham upon their first meeting all of his own back story as relayed in P&P?  Just . . . no.  Again, any true Austen fan would know how the story was meant to go down.  I get that this is a variation but . .  I will say, though, that the changes made to Wickham were welcome and most interesting.
I also felt that one of the twists was very obvious to the reader and should have been a little more obvious to Elizabeth, especially given how much she was tearing up the original plotline.
While some of the creative license with characters was enjoyable and welcome, as I mentioned above, one particular change was grievous and I thoroughly disliked it.  Not only did it change the original plotline of P&P immensely but absolutely changed the very character of the person, and not in a good way.  I won't spoil it but given who the character is and the background, this just couldn't happen. Again, I don't consider myself an absolute Austen purist; if you do, you may be horrified by this change (as well as other differences.)
That said, I did thoroughly enjoy how the book came to a conclusion, with many of the P&P characters making a "reappearance."  Truthfully, the ending made me a bit warm and fuzzy, pining for my own leading man;  it did redeem both Elizabeth and the book to a good degree for me, leaving me not totally down on Ditching Mr. Darcy.  It also made me curious as to Samantha Whitman's sequel, the currently named Becoming Mr. Bingley (which I will in all likelihood read once it's released.)
I appreciate that the author took a beloved book and characters and threw a unique spin on them.  Ditching Mr. Darcy was unusual and it was a quick read.  And I love the cover artwork.
If you are looking for some escapism reading and don't mind your original story and characters being turned on their heads, Ditching Mr. Darcy is a solid choice.  Austen purists and those that believe variations should basically follow canon, beware.  It may not be the book for you.
Ditching Mr. Darcy is currently available in both Kindle and paperback form.
FTC Disclosure:  I purchased this book with my own funds.  I was neither paid nor compensated in any fashion for this review.

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