Ever love a book so much that it is committed to memory? Have a favorite book that provides comfort and escape from life’s more troublesome realities? Pride and Prejudice is just such a book for many, including Kelsey Edmundson, the heroine of Jessica Grey’s new Jane Austen-inspired novel Attempting Elizabeth, who is magically transported through time and dimension jumping right into the story.
Kelsey is a grad student with a deep and abiding geeky love for TV, movies, and books, particularly Pride and Prejudice. She is also in recovery after a bad breakup. In an effort to help Kelsey get back into the game of life, her roommate Tori Mansfield coerces Kelsey into putting on her shortest dress and best boots for a night of dancing. Kelsey, however, is not at the top of her game, suffering through a dance with an overly grope-y acquaintance, manages to insult the Aussie hottie Mark Barnes, and then utterly fails to redeem herself as the evening comes to a close.
If that is not bad enough, the next day Kelsey’s given a second chance to make a better impression with Mark on a group hiking excursion. Unfortunately, hiking is not really Kelsey’s thing and her foul mood prompts more ill-judged comments. Then without a chance to freshen up, the group goes out for dinner, where Kelsey’s downward spiral continues as she spills her drink and the sight of the woman who had put the nail in the coffin of Kelsey’s last relationship hanging all over Mark sends her into a bit of self-pity relapse.
This is when Kelsey seeks comfort in the way so many of us can relate. Dressed in her “rattiest sweats” and armed with a glass of wine and her favorite book, she settles on the couch for some escapist reading. Kelsey escapes far more effectively than she intends as she comes to inexplicably inside the body of Georgiana Darcy. Kelsey is confused. Not only is she inside the world of her favorite book, but being Darcy’s sister is no way to enjoy the experience.
Kelsey’s efforts to cope with her “delusion” are hilarious until she finally discovers the key to returning to her reality. However, reality finds Kelsey still unable to say or do the right thing around Mark, who fate seems to keep throwing at her. Kelsey wonders if it was just a fluke that got her into Pride and Prejudice or if there is a way to repeat the experience. With the exciting discovery that it is possible, Kelsey’s mission becomes jumping into Elizabeth in order to be with Pride and Prejudice’s hero, Darcy. But Kelsey finds that becoming Elizabeth is not so easily done and that her emotional baggage may have something to do with it.
Through Kelsey’s various character jumping Grey demonstrates a keen understanding of the characters Jane Austen created, and also looks at them through the eyes of a modern woman dropped into their world as a participant and not merely as an observer. This presents an added challenge for Kelsey who must fight against her desire to deviate from Austen’s story or suffer on repeat—to truly understand that, you really have to read Attempting Elizabeth.
While Kelsey can jump into Pride and Prejudice and live there with the Regency society, it is Regency as Austen wrote about it. Still the need of maids for dressing, how bathing is handled, and even how relieving oneself is done are only hinted at, but not explored in detail. How the lack of indoor plumbing alone does not kill Kelsey’s determination to be Elizabeth can only be explained by her desire to be with the real Darcy. If you have read Pride and Prejudice then you know that Elizabeth and Darcy do not hit it off from the get go and that there is a lot of time between meetings, we are talking months of time. Even having an escape hatch, I am not sure I would have the same determination as Kelsey.
Kelsey’s journey to true love and through the pages of Pride and Prejudice is fun and quirky. Her internal dialogue is full of references to things Austen would have known nothing about, such Star Wars and Quantum Leap. At the beginning of every chapter there is a quote from a movie, television show, or book, but the details are not given until the end of the story. I am not sure if Grey intended it to be a guessing game or not, but I had fun playing it that way as I read. I got sixteen out of twenty-two. Not sure how geeky that makes me, maybe slightly above average. It is also kind of interesting how the quotes fit with the chapters, but even without them the book is a fun read I would recommend.
4 out of 5 Regency Stars
Attempting Elizabeth, by Jessica Grey
Tall House Books (2013)
Trade paperback (320) pages
Cover image courtesy © 2013 Tall House Books; text © 2013 Veronica Ibarra, Austenprose