Angelini, Sara. The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy (2009). 338 Pages. Sourcebooks Inc. $14.99
When I go to the library, even when it’s for something as innocent as “just returning a book” I leave with more than I intended to. This latest trip to the library saw me returning the un-censored version of Deep Secret and resulted in me checking out a stack of books, one of which I actually knew about before I got to the library. First up on this impulse-grab trip is The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy: A Modern Pride & Prejudice.
It takes some minor inspiration from the original; “While Judge Darcy avoided meditating on the very great pleasure a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow…” (13), for example, recalls a line from the original Pride and Prejudice. But as a whole, the only things which remain the same are the character names and relationships (in the barest sense of the word “relationship”). If you can disentangle the names from Miss Austen’s original work, then you might enjoy this book, but don’t expect it to be a good Austen retelling.
Elizabeth Bennet is a clever, sassy female attorney (who is more Ally McBeal than Austen). Fitzwilliam Darcy is a harsh-but-fair Judge. Charles Bingley is a successful surgeon, as is Jane Bennet. Caroline Bingley is a cutthroat real estate tycoon, and is Darcy’s friend-with-benefits. Mrs. Bennet is silly and marriage obsessed, but the logic behind her obsession is not present here. There is no such thing as en entailed estate, and that means that her daughters not marrying promptly does not put them at any risk. Mr Wickham does not appear, Mr Collins is mentioned only in passing, and Charlotte Lucas does not make sense in this modern context. Add to that the fact that Elizabeth has acquired a gay best friend whom (we are repeatedly told) she “would have married if he were straight”, and we’ve got absolutely nothing left of the original work.
Does this mean that it’s a bad story? No, actually. While the “oh my goodness they hate each other, but then they learn to love and they live together and are happy forever after” is not new, and is not really the most amazing of plots, it is an entertaining read. So, let’s take a few moments to consider it as a book which has no relation to Austen’s work (because if we really treat it as a retelling, it bombs).
Lizzie Bennet is a new attorney who had a horrible first day in Judge Darcy’s courtroom. Because of her horrible first day, she decided that she dislikes him, and spends a lot of time making “clever, barbed comments” which for some reason, Will (which is what Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is called) misconstrues as flirting. Cue a lot of infatuation-from-a-distance on Darcy’s part and continue building up to the point that Darcy asks Elizabeth to work with him on a legal paper and she says no. (I think this was supposed to parallel the first proposal, but I don’t know, and more to the point, it’s better if we pretend it’s separate from the work which it was trying to re-write). They clash, and she commits career-suicide by telling him off.
Meanwhile Jane and Charley have fallen in love over the surgery table. Charley (Bingley)’s friend has a home in London and he’s opened his home for them to visit. Jane invites Elizabeth along, thinking the vacation will do her sister some good. Cue some silliness which leads to Lizzie and Will starting a torrid affair which will end when they leave England because in America, they are Ms Bennet the Attorney and Mr Darcy the Judge, and the American Bar Association says that they shall not be in a relationship if she tries cases in his courtroom. This is the major obstacle which they have to overcome. The romance in England is sweet, and the scenes between the two are detailed (a little too detailed at times, I think). When they get back to America is when it gets downright annoying. “I love you so much.” “We have to end it” “But I want you” “But it’s over” “But I love you” *implosion*
The Quick Version:
As a Pride and Prejudice rewrite, this book bombs. As a complicated modern romance, it does alright. The writing is not fabulous, but it’s not terrible. The story is pretty good, for the most part. It gets a 3 out of 5, because it’s a solid book, but it’s nothing amazing.
I am going to rant, for a moment, however. Angelini claims to live in San Francisco, and while I attempted to accept this, she referred to the “Pacific Highway” as a main thoroughfare from San Francisco to its suburb of “Meryton”. In California, there are a lot of highways and freeways. None of them are the “Pacific Highway.” In Southern California, a stretch of Highway 1 is referred to as the “P.C.H.” for the Pacific Coast Highway, however in San Francisco it is called “Highway 1” or through section-specific nicknames like “Devil’s Slide” or “Shoreline Highway” or even, in one place the “Cabrillo Highway.” If you are going to set a book in a city, for goodness sakes get street names and freeway names right. As a native Californian (and not just that, but one who has lived within 2 miles of Highway 1 my entire life), I caught that, and actually growled in annoyance.
This book is part of the Local Library Reading Challenge!