This book, a collection of short stories, disappointed me. There were definitely a few gems, but overall it left me uninspired and left wanting. Part of this disappointment stems from my the often tenuous connection to Austen in many of the stories. I mean one story’s inspiration came from the horseshoe door hinge at Chawton house, which yes connects to Austen but in such a minuscule way I could even figure out the connection until I read the ‘authors inspiration’ blurb.
The other part of the disappointment is pretty obvious and I discuss in further depth below. And as an aside, I’m not sure if it’s the generation of writers who are writing Austen ‘fan-fiction’ as I call it, but there are quite a few of them which throw in a Star Wars reference at some point, including one of the short stories in this collection. (This is seriously merging two of my favorite things in the world and it still stands that if anyone can find a single guy who likes Austen and Star Wars I want them to either marry me or be my best friend depending on their interests…)
I picked Dancing with Mr. Darcy up in September 2011 at one of the numerous Borders closing down sales along with six other Austen inspired novels/books and as such it qualifies for my 2013 Mount TBR challenge. You will probably see quite a bit of Austen fan-fiction and lighter books over the next few months as I’m trying to clear off my shelves and reign in my to-be-read pile.
Of all the stories in this collection four stories stood out to me and none of those were in the top three of the competition, which I think is telling. Of the winner (Jane Austen over the River Styx by Victoria Owens) and two runners-up (Second Thoughts by Elsa A. Solender and Jayne by Kirsty Mitchell) I thought Waters’ made the right decision and the right ordering, but there were others that stood out for me because of my perspective. I’ve put the titles and a brief response to each below with the exception of Eight Years Later by Elaine Grotefield which raised a lot of questions for me so I saved it for last.
Cleverclogs – Hilary Spiers
I only highlight this story for the quirky precocious protagonist. She cannot be very old because of how she refers to her parents, but she’s so easy to identify with and just adorable. She counts every single word that she reads and the way this comes across is perfect. “Yesterday I read 27,373 words. Not counting rereading the cereal packet.” are the opening lines and she continues to discuss the myriad ways she estimates the words she reads and adds up to that number. But overall, what solidified this as one of the stories that stood out for me in the collection is how the story ends in such a mature way and shows that the young woman has grown leaps and bounds in the very short story.
The Watershed – Stephanie Shields
This story stood out to me because it is such a quintessentially British experience of waiting for your results (and I guess there’s a similarity in the US waiting for SATs and AP exam results). But what drew me to this story was a mistake: I thought the protagonist was male. There may have been other cues which told me the protagonist was female, but at the end she’s putting on a dress which is a giveaway. What struck me about this story, aside from the tension written into the situation, was the feeling of build up and release the author employs. Often times this doesn’t work out well, but in this instance it was perfect. From the build up to the examinations and the post examination slump, to the build up again to the examination results and then tying everything back together in the end made this one of the better stories.
One Character in Search of Her Love Story Role – Felicity Cowie
This story is by far the most creative story of the entire collection. I’m honestly surprised it wasn’t a finalist because of its creativity and ingenuity. When compared to all of the other stories in the collection, this story’s premise comes from a couple of quotes of famous authors mention characters being alive on the page and jumping between stories. Fitting enough there is a great scene in The Jane Austen Book Group where they discuss characters coming alive and having identities an author doesn’t know about. And that’s exactly what this story is about, the author created the Character’s Affiliation for Shadowing and Training (CAST) where fictional characters are able to travel between stories and interact with each other in hopes of furthering their authors creation of characters and expand their plot lines. Helen, the protagonists, goes to spend time with Jane Bennet, whom I appreciate because she continuously brings up Mr. Bingley whom I love, and Jane Eyre. And when she meets with each of them she discusses minor theme and plot points with them and hints at further plot points and themes in her own storyline.
Eight Years Later – Elaine Grotefield
There were a couple of stories in the collection inspired by Persuasion with this one and Second Fruits by Stephanie Tillotson standing out. They both focused on the idea of young love gone awry/amiss and a second opportunity to reconnect just like in Persuasion (which I seriously need to re-read). And there is something about young (often unrequited) love being given a second chance that I feel really embodies the human experience and this incredibly short story brings that across incredibly well and shows Grotefield’s understanding of Austen and mastery of this creative short story at minimum. However, the main reason this story stood out above all of the others for me is that the protagonist is male and this not only shook me but it made me incredibly happy.
There was a second story, mentioned above, which I thought had a male protagonist and could have easily worked with a male protagonist but this is the only Austen inspired story I’ve read so far told from a male perspective and that really impressed me. (If you are aware of any other stories inspired by Austen which focus on a male perspective please let me know.) In addition to this being the only male protagonist in the collection I realized there were no male authors and doing a quick search there were very few Austen inspired works by men at all. This isn’t shocking as many male authors and men in general consider Austen solely a female and romance writer. What I would be interested in finding out is how many male followers Austen and Austen inspired fiction has. I mean I’m pretty sure it’s a small minority, but I can’t be alone can I? Perhaps this idea of ‘Men for Austen’ is something I will explore at a later date.
Recommendation: I would recommend the three winners plus the four I’ve highlighted without a question. A couple of the others were notable, but others were just duds to me. They did have their own perspective and clearly had something to recommend them for the book but I just wasn’t impressed or drawn to most of them.