There’s one thing that’s true about Janeites – we love a good romance. Whether it’s a couple exchanging glances nearly two hundred years ago or a modern guy and gal sharing their first kiss on the streets of London, there’s something so magical about experiencing the feeling of falling in love… even if we’re only reading about it. In her new novel, Project Darcy, Jane Odiwe combines love stories from the past and present to give us an interesting spin on the life of Jane Austen.
When Ellie Bentley agrees to volunteer for an archeological dig at the site of Jane Austen’s childhood home in Steventon Rectory, she’s looking forward to spending a nice summer with her four closest friends – Jess, Martha, Cara, and Liberty. But almost as soon as she arrives, Ellie starts to see strange things: a man who looks just like he could be the ghost of Mr. Darcy and visions of a romance that happened 200 years ago. As the days pass and Ellie learns more about the secrets of Steventon, she gets drawn deeper and deeper into the life and loves of Jane Austen.
Meanwhile, the five friends are finding that their lives are playing out just like one of Austen’s romances. A handsome Oxford student named Charlie Harden has his eye on Jess, while Ellie is convinced that his friend, Henry Dorsey, is the most arrogant man who ever lived. Cara and Liberty are busy flirting with anyone and everyone in their path – even Greg Whitely, a gorgeous TV star who might not be as charming as he seems. Could the visions that Ellie keeps seeing hold the key to figuring out all their modern-day romantic entanglements?
Project Darcy is a bit of a literary mash-up. It’s part modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice and part Austen-inspired magical realism. Not only is Ellie on a journey to find her own Mr. Darcy, but she also has the ability to see into important moments from Jane Austen’s past. While this idea is really interesting and has a lot of potential, in the end, the book sometimes struggled to bring the two stories together.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good contemporary update on Austen. It’s so fun to see her stories play out with modern couples. I also don’t take any issue with characters who randomly travel back in time and help us get to know Jane Austen a little bit better – there’s something delightful about letting our imaginations fill in the gaps in our favorite author’s personal story. But, combining these two is apparently a tricky business.
In this novel, we have a character from the present who randomly falls back into the past every so often. These transitions were always smooth and well-written, but they did sometimes interrupt the flow of the story. One moment we’re with Ellie as she’s about to confront Henry, the next, we’re at a ball in 1796 gazing across the room at Tom Lefroy. Sometimes, it was hard to figure out which love story to focus on. Just when you wanted more of one – poof! – it was gone.
There are lots of Austen-inspired novels that play with some kind of time travel. One of the things I’ve always noticed about these books is the main character will usually spend some time coming to terms with what’s happened. But, Ellie isn’t worried at all when she unexpectedly begins to see visions of the past. The author explains this by saying that Ellie always had a gift for seeing ghosts and such. But, these visions are so intense that they made me wish Ellie would have at least stopped to check in with her doctor and make sure everything was all right.
Aside from all this, the author does write well and the characters are well-developed and vibrant. The love stories, also, are passionate and sweet and will really draw you in. And the event that brings everyone together – the archeological dig at Steventon – really happened. The dialogue is fun and witty, but, at times, it got a little outdated. Occasionally, during the scenes that took place in the present, the characters just came off sounding a bit too formal to be 21st-century guys and girls.
Overall, the book gives us two intriguing romances. It just has a little trouble making them come together. At times, it felt like I was reading two excellent love stories, not one cohesive one. In the end, the author tries to tie everything together in an interesting and surprising way, but, sadly, I don’t think she’s completely able to wrap up all the loose ends.
4 out of 5 Stars
Project Darcy, by Jane Odiwe
Paintbox Publishing (2013)
Trade paperback (326) pages
Cover image courtesy of Paintbox Publishing © 2013; text Lisa Galek © 2013, Austenprose.com