Connelly does something you might not expect in a book with Mr. Darcy as a titular figure: she retells Sense and Sensibility (in a modern setting).
There’s the now-familiar awkwardness as these characters not only realize but also acknowledge their similarities to Austen’s heroines, this time, Mia’s to Marianne’s (and therefore the narrator’s to Elinor’s) (2). Later, too, when a link is obvious, Connelly makes the characters self-aware so it’s not annoying. When Shelley wants to introduce Mia to an older man, Mia resists, and the reader is thinking, “it’s Colonel Brandon!” Then Shelley says, “Just remember Colonel Brandon wasn’t exactly in the first flush of youth, and he’s one of my favorite heroes” (35). Somehow that frankness helps the story be more believable than it could otherwise be.
The structure of the novel is, at first, a bit bewildering. “Why did we skip ahead three years and miss what happened that week at Barton Cottage? Will we get that later?” I wondered. (“We must,” my reasonable side told me.) At the end of chapter 2, the link between the Barton Cottage episode and current analysis became clearer. Now I understood: this story will explain what happened, and, I hoped, remedy the rift. Similarly, when the narrator took us back to Sarah’s germ-worrying childhood, I wondered why (and also how it happened that these germ-worryers are so common in Austen fiction now). This one really has OCD. It turned out that Connelly’s strategy for organization of the story really worked: catalyzing incident, forward in time, then back (meanwhile switching between the sisters’ stories), then, finally when they’re in the same place, staying in the present. Structurally even, it corresponds with Sense and Sensibility: Elinor’s love story gets wrapped up first.
The language varied from pretty (“It was as if spring had danced over everything, leaving no surface untouched” 6) to irritating (a typo in an otherwise touching scene: “I want to seem right now” about a baby an aunt wants to see 283 AND missing quotation marks in a key revelation of love scene! 312), but overall, the premise (two close sisters have had some terrible falling-out, and now, as each returns to Bath for the first time without the other for the Jane Austen Festival, she is thinking about her sister) worked for me, and, I think, for the novel.