Seducing Mr. Darcy by Gwyn Cready

If Jane Austen-related fiction came with NC-17 ratings, this book would have one.

Even its cover is a departure from those of “the usual” books we read on the subject, including the books that reveal the sexy underpinnings on which this love story is based. A muscle-clad, open-shirted man caresses the exposed leg of a sexily-clad blond woman in strappy sandals. Textual warnings include the author’s thanking of Linda Berdoll for giving her a “first taste of what Austen may have missed.”

As someone pretty convinced that Austen missed nothing in her novels, I was a bit on edge when I began to read this seeming harlequin romance. Though somewhat mollified by Cready’s acknowledgement of the “incomparable Jane Austen, who [she hopes] can look the other way for a few hours,” I wasn’t expecting to have a positive reaction to the story.

But after reading this text, I have to imagine that, had Austen lived in modern times, she wouldn’t have needed to look away, and might actually have enjoyed the tale Cready has spun from Pride and Prejudice.

The story begins with our aptly-named heroine, Flip, accusing her friend, Dinah, a defensive, know-it-all, high school English teacher (uh oh) of overusing her vibrator. Flip is an ornithologist, and her friend Eve Bloomberg is a lawyer with a pharmaceutical company. Flip is rereading P&P for her book club and keeping track of the time since she was last, uh, carnally satisfied.  An outsider observes that watching these women is like watching Sex and the City except that these women discuss the classics (I think some of the SATC girls could, too!). Thus we are introduced to our cast of several 30-something single, professional women looking for meaning, fulfillment, great sex, and a great book.

Enter Magnus Knightley (forgive the pun; blame the spirit of the book!). Mr. Knightley is a British Austen scholar living in the States and known for showing women a good time in the Rare Book Room at the library. He overhears the ladies’ discussion of how Netherfield is named for the nether regions to which Darcy is so drawn, and is quickly appalled by what he deems willful misinterpretation of the novel that, for him, represents “objective representationalism” and not a lurid fantasy involving sinks and sugar bowls.

In a nice parallel to the mutual faulty first impressions of the novel, Magnus makes a similarly poor impression on Flip, despite physical attraction between them, when he deliberately embarrasses her when she asks for suggestions for her book club. But the stage has been set: they both read Austen, she has not been sexually tended to for two years, and he’s a known lothario. OK. Match! Let’s go.

Flip goes for a massage and finds herself transported in time . . . to Netherfield, where Mr. Darcy saves her from public humiliation about her husband’s cheating (which also caused Flip’s divorce from a Wickham-esque character in the modern world). Jed, like Jared in the alternate P&P, is indiscreet with his affairs and unwilling to give Flip the one thing she wants most of all: a baby. Flip has several significant experiences, both with Darcy and with the discovery of the (now extinct) passenger pigeon, which fascinates her. What she does not know, however, is that her presence and her choices will change the novel (whose characters’ passion she didn’t quite understand until visiting firsthand). Without my revealing too many plot details, know that if you invest your time in Seducing Mr. Darcy, you will enjoy several intense intimate scenes (one outdoors and almost public; and one involving some foodstuffs), several details of a modern P&P story (even the muddy heroine: how does she not see that she’s playing Lizzy?), sexy socks, philosophical discussions about the role of sex in relationships, the destruction of our beloved novel and several attempts to restore it, and more birds than you’ve probably pondered seriously for some time. Our characters will be asked to choose between love of Austen and love of each other, and their choices will both horrify and delight you.

I think it delightfully ironic that, when reviewing a book based on one that teaches that first impressions are often incorrect, I judged the book by its cover and its “acknowledgements” section; I have learned to correct my first impressions, and I have enjoyed the journey. I think you will, too.

Published in: on June 11, 2009 at 7:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

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