Follow by Email

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Mr Darcy's Christmas Calendar by Jane Odiwe

Book cover - Mr Darcy's Christmas Calendar by Jane Odiwe
I read a lot of books inspired by Jane Austen’s works but this is something quite different; rather than a variation on her works, this involves time-travel, a visit into a Jane Austen novel and features Austen as a character too. Lizzy Benson has gone to visit Chawton (Jane Austen’s home towards the end of her life, which is now open to the public as a museum). Here, Lizzy meets a pretty rude Museum employee, Mr Williams, but before she leaves in a huff, the situation is saved by another employee, a lady in period costume, who is doing a very good rendition of Mrs Bennet.
‘She reminded Lizzy of Mrs Bennet especially when she laughed like a young girl, her curls trembling as she disappeared through a door at the end. Lizzy suppressed a desire to giggle, and wondered how the lady managed to keep up her way of talking, as if she’d just stepped out of a Jane Austen novel.’
This lady convinces Lizzy to take an advent calendar, which she can pay for at the end of her tour, and she sends Lizzy off to change into period costume and meet with her daughters (more employees in character, Lizzy presumes). Trapped in Chawton by the snow, somehow, Lizzy finds herself as part of this world. The characters she is trapped with seem very real. She gets to know the Bennet family, and Mr Williams and even takes a trip to Derbyshire. The advent calendar appears to be very unusual, with the doors glowing before they are opened, and each picture has a resonance to what is happening that day.

Lizzy assumes that she is in Pride and Prejudice but some things are quite different. Elizabeth Bennet is very taken with a rich, charming gentleman from Derbyshire, a Mr Wickham(!), and when Lizzy mentions Mr Darcy nobody has ever heard of him!

“Is Mr Darcy here?” Lizzy asked tentatively 
Elizabeth shook her head. “I do not recall that name. Darcy, did you say? Is he a friend of yours?”

When Lizzy finally gets to meet Miss Austen she discovers that she has found herself in a draft of ‘First Impressions’ (this is the original title of ‘Pride & Prejudice’, a book that was worked and re-worked to give us the story that so many of us love). However, Miss Austen feels that something isn’t quite right with the story, and she requests that Lizzy help inspire her to improve the story. Lizzy can’t just tell Jane how to fix the storyline, all she can do is hint, as Jane needs to think up the details herself, and she tweaks at the characters, so they don’t always behave the same way from one day to the next. Mr Williams is included in this, so Lizzy isn’t even sure if he is real.

This was a very readable story, and I enjoyed seeing Austen’s characters interacting with their visitor Lizzy in this ‘book world’. I particularly enjoyed seeing Mr Darcy, when the character was introduced, as rather than the proud and somewhat haughty man we would be expecting, instead he is instantly besotted with Elizabeth, and so rather than be offended by him expressing an adverse opinion on her, she instead is put off by how much he likes her! However, Austen’s characters are very much secondary in this story, the main protagonist is Lizzy Benson, who is very likeable, although sometimes I was a bit surprised at her reactions to events. She accepts the time travel/book world issue almost without a blink and doesn’t seem at all worried that the fate of one of the most famous books in the English language may lie in her hands, though I accept that ‘First Impressions’ was an earlier version of it, so she may have felt that it was safe as long as the main issue of the hero of the story was resolved. She also integrates seamlessly into the earlier time when I thought there may have been some stumbling blocks, though since this is a book world rather than the real world there is some crossover of knowledge to the earlier time, such as knowledge of telephones etc, though none of them work of course.

The only thing I would have changed in this story is the main romance storyline. I didn’t feel the relationship was developed enough for me to buy into it and I didn’t find the ending really believable in modern times, though it was an enjoyable ending and full of Christmas feelgood. However, I very much enjoyed the part set in the world of ‘First Impressions’ and the way that Jane Austen was tweaking and developing the characters. This is an enjoyable read and I’d recommend it. It would be suitable for most people as there are no sex scenes or bad language in this book but you’d need to be willing to buy in to the fact that the action takes place in an alternate reality! This was no issue for me, so I’d rate it as a 4 star read.

4 star read


*I was provided with an e-book of this by the author for my honest review

12 comments:

  1. What an interesting concept, with so many books within the realm of JAFF it's great to see new ideas emerging. Great review Ceri :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Tamara. I agree, it was something unlike anything I'd read before in JAFF. I've read books with the concept of a person travelling into a book, which I really liked, but this was different, more magical.

      Delete
  2. Excellent review, Ceri! Hearing your thoughts about the romance and ending, makes me feel good, because I felt the same way and was worried I was too harsh. But, you are right it didn't ring quite true for modern times. :) Glad you overall had a lot of great things to say! ;) Hope you had a lovely Christmas!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Meredith! If I am going to review things myself I try and steer clear of other people's reviews until I've written mine, so once I had my draft review ready I read the review from your blog and I agreed with everything you said :) I had real trouble wording the part of the review about the ending, as I didn't want to put any spoilers in, but I think I managed ok in the end!

      Delete
  3. I actually managed the challenge I set myself with this book. One chapter a day every day up till Christmas - just! A couple of times I was halfway down the first page of the next one when I realised what I was doing.

    Like you Ceri, and Meredith, my favourite part was the alternative reality bit. Being a bit of a geek, that sort of thing bothers me not at all. I was so hoping that Jane Odiwe wasn't going to make it all a " Bobby Ewing coming out of the shower" moment and was rather glad when my fears weren't realised.

    Yes, the ending seemed a little rushed but on the whole turned out OK. My one particular little thrill was reading the words in chapter 22 "go and see Mrs. Dale at the farm". Jane was looking for a name for the Christmas tree farm people, remembered that we live in an old farmhouse and thought our surname fitted in quite well. One of my very, very few claims to fame!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. P.S. A Happy New Year to you all!!

      Delete
    2. Oh how lovely! I remember her mother saying they'd go visiting, but I didn't really note the name at the time. It's such a thrill seeing your name in a book, I feature (with a lot of other names I recognised) in Marilyn Brant's 'Pride, Prejudice & the Perfect Bet'. I am just one of the neighbours but I was so chuffed when I saw it, especially as I didn't know in advance!

      Hope you have a Happy New Year too!

      Delete
  4. Beautiful review, Ceri! I haven't read this story, but when you said that you enjoyed the part set in the world of First Impressions, I thought that every time I read a time travel by Jane Odiwe, I always end up loving the past more! Searching for Captain Wentworth was the only exception, because I loved both the story set in the past and the one set in the present! Have you read it?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Maria! I haven't read Searching for Captain Wentworth yet, but I have the book on my kindle. I am going to try and read something each month based on Austen's other stories as the vast majority of Austenesque is based on Pride & Prejudice, so I'll choose this as one of the 'Persuasion' choices!

      Delete
    2. That's great, Ceri! I think I'll do the same! :) Hope you enjoy Jane Odiwe's book, it's wonderful!

      Delete
  5. Oh, neat! I didn't realize this one delved into the First Impressions manuscript of the story. That makes it even more interesting and a bit different. I don't have this one yet, but I do plan to read it. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I liked that too, that it was First Impressions rather than Pride & Prejudice, and since Austen was drafting and redrafting and making big changes, it was obviously early days in the writing of the manuscript, so it made more sense to be First Impressions too.

      Delete