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Friday, 6 February 2015

The Muse by Jessica Evans

Book cover - The Muse by Jessica Evans
Having seen wonderful reviews for this book I was really excited to read it. It’s an updated version of ‘Pride & Prejudice’ set in the world of ballet. Here, William Darcy is the former principal dancer of the New York Ballet Theater who has come back to the company as a choreographer. He is talented, of New York ‘aristocracy’, rich, gorgeous, and breathtakingly arrogant. Elizabeth Bennet is an insignificant member of the corps de ballet. Her sister, Jane, is a more established member of the corps. Elizabeth has never been as good as Jane – shorter, curvier (neither of which are good for ballet dancers), less beautiful and less of a classic ballerina. She overhears Darcy saying pretty much exactly that to Charles Bingley, artistic director of the ballet company and the boyfriend of Jane. Darcy’s comments flicked on a deeply held feeling, that she’s not as good as Jane, and Elizabeth is very hurt and angry.

Darcy however, has no idea of Elizabeth’s negative feelings towards him. He notices the feeling she infuses into her dance, the expression in her eyes and arm movements. He feels inspired to choreograph by her dancing. Rather than feel appreciation for working with such a talent Elizabeth feeds her resentment towards Darcy, focusing on his arrogance, and constant corrections of her movements. She also resents him for the depth of passion she feels towards him.
‘The dark timbre in Darcy’s voice sent her flesh tingling. She hated herself for it. She hated the way she reacted to him. She hated that Darcy, despicable man though he was, made her quiver in fear, fury and fervor.’
I thought this was an extremely successful update. One thing I thought worked really well was the depth of Darcy’s arrogance, which is quite often reduced significantly in modern updates to help build sympathy for his character – here Elizabeth doesn’t get to see just how arrogant he is, but the reader does as we are privy to his thoughts.

One difference from canon was the change in Elizabeth’s philosophical attitude. It is something that resonated with me as I read ‘Pride & Prejudice’ because I am quite like that myself – there are many things that make me angry but I deal with things by tucking them away or laughing myself out of it, which is very much canon Lizzy’s philosophy too. This Elizabeth, on the other hand is a pretty angry young woman and she nurses her bitter feelings in a way that canon Elizabeth has the sense to laugh off. This makes her a tad less likeable than ‘Pride & Prejudice’s heroine, especially when she takes things out on Jane (who is just as nice as canon Jane, so being mean to her is akin to kicking a puppy!).

However, other things were very close to canon such as the strata of levels of importance in the ballet company mirroring the levels in society that existed in P&P. I loved some of the nods back to Austen’s work too – the Lady Catherine de Bourgh character is a patron of the arts, which is how the character saw herself in P&P, and the Sir William Lucas character is the artistic director, directing the dance as he did in P&P.

This is a very readable and engaging work. Although William and Elizabeth are both very flawed individuals you are rooting for both of them from the first and can see what each of them inspires in the other. They have wonderful passion, whether it is used for loving or hating, and they both spend a lot of effort improving themselves in the light of what they learn from their interactions. There are sex scenes but they are in flashback and not very detailed though they retain their steaminess. There is some swearing but it’s not excessive. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I’d really recommend it. It’s a five star read in my book.

5 star read


9 comments:

  1. I was about to reply to the other comment, when I saw that you had posted your review! I was so curious to know if you had enjoyed this one! I had read other reviews before, and they all said it was a great book, so now I really can't wait to get to it! Besides, Darcy as a dancer!? I'm dying to "see" it!! Wonderful review! :)

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    1. Yes, I agreed with everybody else, I really enjoyed this book! So often in modern updates Darcy is a businessman so it was really good to see him in a completely different arena. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. This was one of my hospital stay reads and it was a very satisfying distraction :)

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    2. Ceri, I'm so glad The Muse kept you company when you were in the hospital. Hope it gave you some moments of relief.

      I think some readers might have a hard time envisioning a Dancer Darcy. Maybe because we have pre-conceived notions about male dancers as weak and effeminate? So it always makes me happy when I hear that it works for people.

      I'm so glad that you enjoyed it, Ceri. And, Maria, when you get around to reading "The Muse," let me know what you think!

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    3. Yes, it was a good distraction, though it made me dream I was eating sushi! I wasn't a big fan of the hospital food and I dreamt about food most nights :)

      Darcy as a dancer doesn't spring to mind, but I thought it worked really well and in some ways is a good fit for him, when you consider he's from quite a well-off family, which makes the arts more likely, and he's not really a team player sort of man, but an individual performer, with drive and the self-discipline to apply himself to improve.

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  2. Great review, Ceri! I wasn't sure about this one, especially since I'm usually not a fan of modern day stories. I usually prefer my Darcy in riding boots and a cravat but I just may give this one a try now!!:)

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    1. I do hope you give it a try, Kelli! As Ceri mentioned, "The Muse" does depart in some ways from the original (namely, in Elizabeth's characterization), but I believe it maintains the "heart" of the original.

      Let me know what you think, if you do decide to read it. :)

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    2. Thank you Kelli! I hope you enjoy it if you read it. I generally like modern updates but I thought this one was particularly good :)

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  3. I was lucky enough to win a copy of this in a giveaway and I've just started reading it. Looks like I'm in for a treat!

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    1. I hope you enjoy it Anji! If it can distract me from a broken hip and a ward full of other people then it has to be pretty absorbing :)

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