The Premise: Katherine Roberts is a university lecturer going to an annual Jane Austen weekend at Purley Hall, Hampshire. For the past three years she's been invited to talk, but this year, she'll also be meeting romance novelist Lorna Warwick for the first time. Lorna and Katherine have been exchanging letters for a while and have developed a close friendship through their mail. What Katherine doesn't know is that Lorna Warwick is really a man named Warwick Lawton. Warwick never expected a fan letter from Katherine to turn into such a great friendship, and from his side, love. He's panicked that when Katherine finds out he's Lorna, all that they share will be destroyed. The Jane Austen weekend is Warwick's chance to meet Katherine and tell her the truth, but when he sees her, he may not be able to go through with it.
Going to the same conference is Robyn Love, a Austen fan whose boyfriend Jace is completely insensitive to her and her interests. Her hope for a nice weekend by herself is thwarted when Jace invites himself to her trip at the last minute, and then expects her to rearrange her plans to spend time with him. When Robyn meets Dan at Purley Hall, it brings her incompatibility with Jace into sharp contrast. While Jace has completely different interests and can't stand Jane Austen, Dan shares her love of animals and the country, and he's willing to read Jane Austen. On the other hand, Jace wants to take their relationship to the next level and has been with her through a bad time. It all leaves Robyn very confused about what she should do.
Read an excerpt of A Weekend With Mr. Darcy here
My Thoughts: This is a story told in the third person, but it is a very intimate, confiding type of third person, often revealing the streams of consciousness of each of the characters as the story goes along. The three people that the narrative centers around are Katherine, Warwick, and Robyn. Katherine is a university lecturer tired of lying boyfriends (one caught with an ex-girlfriend, one caught with a wife!), Warwick is a popular romance novelist afraid of telling the world his real identity, and Robyn is a sweet Austen fan stuck in a bad relationship.
This is the first in a series called the Austen Addicts, and for good reason. When the book begins we are allowed a brief glimpse of Katherine, Warwick, and Robyn's everyday lives, and then the setting changes to Purley Hall, where their three fates converge. Their reason for being there is of course the Jane Austen weekend, so a lot of the book is about the conference, which includes the lecture Katherine gives, the various events they go to, and general conference goings on. It is all Jane Austen, all the time! I enjoyed this to some extent. The conference was a good way to show the characters meeting and getting to know each other over a shared passion for Austen and mutual dislike over the caustic Mrs. Soames. I was also really interested in some of the creative ways that Austen was celebrated at the conference.
The issue was that after a while, I wanted the story to be more about the individual characters instead of going into every minute detail of the conference. It got a little tedious, especially since, on top of the conference, the characters muse about Jane Austen whenever they can. At first it was cute when Robyn packed her Jane Austen books and went into detail about the state of each of her reading copies (of course she has more than one copy of each book), and when Katherine thinks about how her period drama DVDs got more use after a bad break-up. But over the course of the book, when Austen was referred to in every other page, and some small part of their life would begin a long internal monologue on Jane Austen, it felt like repetitive "filler", and I started to feel irritation when the narrative went on another Austen-related rumination.
Warwick, Robyn, and Katherine were all likable characters, but I wanted to know more about them, and less about Jane Austen. The bones were there for what could have been an interesting set of characters: Warwick's reasons for hiding the truth of his identity to Katherine, Katherine's reasons for being wary of lying men, and Robyn's conflict between what she knows (Jace), and what she wants (Dan). The story maintains a sort of light touch when it came to going into these issues. I think of all the three characters, Robyn's story is what went the furthest, but it still felt like it could have gone a lot further. I felt like the narrative was playing things safe by focusing on Austen and the conference so much and avoiding character development.
Overall: This felt like one for the Austen-super-fans, because it's a love letter to Jane Austen. The Austen conference in a beautiful country house and characters who can't help thinking about their favorite author is great for a Janeite who wants to live vicariously, but as a chick lit novel, A Weekend with Mr. Darcy isn't very substantial. The plot and character development were on the simple side of the spectrum. Once the charming setting wore off, I found the story flat.
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