A review by Laurel Ann Nattress
When fifteen year old heroine Callie Montgomery purchases a pair of red Prada pumps with sky-high heels she thinks her life will change from high school geek to A-list fashionista in one smooth step. She’s out to impress her savvy classmates while traveling on a school trip in London. Not only is Callie socially awkward, she is an admitted klutz. It only takes her three steps out of the Prada shop in her new shoes to trip and hit her head. When she wakes up, her surroundings have changed from city street, to country lane. She is taken in at Harksbury, a palatial country manor house where she is mistaken for an American cousin Rebecca Vaughn. Rebecca’s first visit to England is highly anticipated by Emily Thorton-Hawke, who warmly greets the cousin she has never met with open arms, and in full Regency era attire. Thinking that British people are very odd, Callie asks to use the telephone, but only gets blank looks. She plays along with impersonating Cousin Rebecca and gradually begins to realize that somehow she has traveled back in time to 1815. Her twenty-first century manners and memory of Regency history hamper her ruse, especially with the arrogant but dishy Lord Alexander Thorton-Hawke, Duke of Harksbury. He thinks she is outspoken and ill-mannered; she thinks if he wasn’t such a complete jerk, he’d be a great catch.
A high-concept time travel fantasy, Mandy Hubbard’s debut novel Prada & Prejudice reminds us how far we have evolved socially pitting twenty-first century personal freedoms against early nineteenth-century social stricture. Hubbard’s first person writing style is direct and engaging. Her heroine Callie/Rebecca is endearingly angst ridden and insecure, struggling to find herself in a teenage world flooded with designer clothes and confusing priorities. She cleverly contrasts her heroine’s modern sensibilities against the double standard for women in Regency times. By Callie/Rebecca’s motivation to help Emily break her engagement to a man thirty years her senior whom she does not love, and influencing Alex, the Duke of Harksbury to change his views on out of wedlock children, arranged marriages, and of course being an arrogant aristocrat, she directly addresses issues like primogeniture and feminism without even knowing it. She is just being herself, outspoken and direct. In addition, being Rebecca changes Callie’s perspective as she gradually realizes that by traveling thousands of miles to England, or back two hundred years into the past, she can not escape who she is. Wherever you go there you are! Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, her red shoes are not her ticket to happiness. It was there all along, waiting to be discovered, in herself.
Light, bright, and sparkly, Prada & Prejudice has made a grand entrance into the emerging Young Adult fiction genre. It is not a Jane Austen sequel per se, but gently nods with reverence at Pride and Prejudice, presenting a hero and heroine whose relationship and characteristics readers will recognize from Austen’s famous literary couple Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. With Austen being the grandmother of chick-lit, we have seen this premise used many times before in modern novels; Bridget Jones’ Diary, Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and Twilight, and in the movies You’ve Got Mail and Lost in Austen to name a few. If Prada & Prejudice represents the next generation in Austen inspired fiction geared for young readers (and those young at heart) we are on very good footing indeed. Well done. I recommend it highly for those in need of a quick escape, and a hearty laugh.
List Price: £6.05
Publisher: Razorbill (Penguin Group), New York (2009)
Paperback: (238) pages
A review by Laurel Ann Nattress
In her fourth book in the Jane Austen in the 21st-century series for young adult readers, (and some older adults who are forever young at heart), author Rosie Rushton tackles Jane Austen’s most famous novel, Pride and Prejudice, retelling the story with a contemporary twist. Her teenage Lizzie Bennet and sisters are still hunting for beaus, but with all of the advantages of modern technology: mobile phones, laptop computers and blackberries. The Bennet family always wanted to be well connected. Well, now they are.
Rushton has been faithful to the original storyline, cleverly transferring the machinations of Regency courtship into the traumas of 21st-century teenage search for romance. There are plot changes, but half the fun is remembering the differences, and seeing her logic in updates. The most significant change is that the Bennet’s are wealthy – nouveau riche – since Mrs. Bennet inherited a bundle from a third cousin. This Mrs. Bennet is still as outrageously unrefined as ever, using her new money to social climb through Meryton’s better families. Mr. Bennet is still an unhappy bystander, but now resides in his music room listening to Wagner at full volume instead of the quaint and quiet 19th-century pastime of reading. The five Bennet sister’s personalities and foibles are all updated cleverly. Lizzie, like Austen’s, is as spirited and outspoken as we would wish her to be, Jane as kind and accepting as ever, Mary/Meredith a fervent ecologist afraid of global warming and food additives, and Kitty/Katie and Lydia are now twins; one wilder than Austen ever could have imagined, and the other unhappy because she is not. I’ll let you sort out who is who! The male love interests play out well too. Fitzwilliam/James Darcy is dishy and arrogant enough to drive a Ferrari and Charles/Charlie Bingley still a pushover. Mr. Collins/Drew Collins is as toady as ever, only times two since he can reach characters by cell phone, text messages and e-mail ad nauseam. There is no getting away from him! All comfortably familiar. Only Charlotte/Emily Lucas and George Wickham were a surprise. I’ll let you discovery why.
Updating a classic of world literature is a daunting task that Rushton handled with composed energy. Her plot, characters and language was up to the minute, filled with modern technology and cultural references that teenagers (and adults) will identify with. I had to laugh when Darcy’s famous ‘be not alarmed, Madame’ letter explaining to Lizzie his reasons for separating Jane and Charlie and his treatment of George Wickham arrived via e-mail! How else? There’s also lots of texting flying about speeding up the pace. Certain elements of the original story were omitted, not causing any offense to this devotee of Austen’s works. In reverence to Jane Austen, Rushton began each chapter with epigraph from the original text, foreshadowing the narrative. It was a nice touch connecting the two novels with quotes that any Austen fan will recognize.
Rushton is a British author and this edition has certain colloquialisms that were quite over this Colonial’s head. I do however, have a new appreciation for snogging, Pimms and wankers; — the other words I just guessed at. The novel is split into two parts, and for some reason the second half was not as fleshed out as the first, which made it rushed and thin. My biggest disappointment was that Lady Catherine/Katrina De Burgh was not nearly as officious or condescending as she could have been, and that her final showdown with Lizzie was on the phone and not vis-à-vis, diminishing the significance to the original infamous altercation in the prettyish kind of a little wilderness. No polluting of the Pemberley shades even alluded to. No Pemberley even mentioned in the entire book!
This was a fast read and great fun. Kudos to Rushton for having the sense not to open the novel with her version of ”It is a truth universally acknowledged.” The cover art is also a lovely complement to the novel. Well done.
Buy online at our giftshop here.
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Piccadilly Press (25 Jan 2009)
A review by Laurel Ann Nattress
I had a blast reading Polly Shulman’s novel Enthusiasm, her homage to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice! It had been released in 2006 and was on my ‘to read’ list for quite some time until I felt the need for something summerish and light to read. Since it is classified as a young adult novel for grades 7-10, I was prepared to be underwhelmed by a less than sparkling plot and characterizations. My assumptions were so wrong! Totally!
It is quite amazing to think that this is Shulman’s first novel! If you check out her picture on her web site she looks barley old enough to be ‘out’ in society!. Educated at Yale University as a mathematician, she obviously possesses both left and right brain skills! This writer is pea green with envy and is in total awe of this level of talent in one so young. Like Jane Austen, Shulman is all about language, social observation and characterization. It is easy to see why Austen is one of her favorite authors and how she inspired her writing.
The book’s auspicious opening quote, “There is little more likely to exasperate a person of sense than finding herself tied by affection and habit to an Enthusiast” sets the tone of Austen-esque language throughout the novel that is respectful but not mimicy to Austen’s prose. The narrative is told from the perspective of fifteen-year old Julie, whose best friend since grade school is Ashleigh, an ‘enthusiast’. From Harriet the Spy to candy-making to military strategy, Julie never knows what or when the next craze will over-take her friend, but she is certain to be pulled into it. Now, her latest inspiration is also Julie’s passion, Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice. However, Ashleigh’s new possession of Regency manners and decorum mortify her conservative friend. Not only do they include speaking in Austenese, but wearing Regency attire to school, learning to country dance like her idols Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, and ultimately, the ardent pursuit of her own true love. Ashleigh’s latest hair-brain scheme is to find their Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley by crashing a boy’s prep school dance!
Knowing Austen’s world through her novels and movie adaptations was helpful, but not a prerequisite to enjoying this delightful novel. By following Julie’s 21st-century hardships, anxieties, mix-ups, and social blunderings we see that they are interchangeable with any 19th-century Regency Miss’ life; — for what young lady of any era does not wish, hope, and dream that a young gentleman will notice her, and return her affections?
List Price: £5.37
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Puffin Books; Reprint edition (6 Sep 2007)
Laurel Ann Nattress is a life-long acolyte of Jane Austen having been converted at a young age by the BBC/PBS 1979 mini-series Pride and Prejudice. Therefore, anyone who calls David Rintoul’s interpretation of Mr. Darcy wooden must be prepared for the consequences. On a whim she was inspired to create Austenprose, a blog honoring the brilliance of Jane Austen’s writing, and also co-blogs at Jane Austen Today, with Vic (Ms. Place). She delights in introducing neophytes to the charms of Miss Austen’s prose as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble. An expatriate of southern California, she lives near Seattle, Washington where it rains a lot.