My parents, a scientist and a career academic, both have a fondness for Regency (i.e., historical and relatively chaste) romance novels that might seem at odds with their characters. If I remember right, on separate occasions, both described a fascination with the combinatorial aspect of the genre: all the allowed variations of the genre playing out in slightly different combinations, like the colored glass chips tumbling in an old-school kaleidoscope: always different, always the same. Perhaps then, genetics help explain my ongoing fascination for the micro-genre of recent works directly inspired by Jane Austen’s work.
Me and Mr. Darcy has a set up that’s more than a bit like Shannon Hale’s Austenland, not to mention Victoria Connelly’s A Weekend with Mr. Darcy, with 21st-century Austenites playing dress-up, but the tone is quite different. I decided not to belabor the kaleidoscope metaphor, but it’s lighter and less layered than Austenland, without the class consciousness that lends some heft to Hale’s book. But it’s considerably more serious (and a shade less formulaic) than Connelly’s novel. It explores the question of why arrogant, snobbish Darcy is such an enduring romantic icon to contemporary women. Until the dénouement, Potter does a pretty good job of leaving it to the reader to decide whether the apparently “fantastic” events are really happening, or if they’re unusually vivid dreams brought on by exhaustion, blows to the head, and the like. And likewise, until the big wrap up, I didn’t quite know if it was the sort of novel where the protagonist would wind up contentedly paired, contentedly not paired, or sadder/wiser/a little more grown-up. I knew which way I’d bet, but I wasn’t positive, and I could see them all being appropriate and to some degree satisfying resolutions. And perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay to this book is that after reading much of it on a westbound evening flight, it wasn’t until after I learned the answer to that question that I really started to wonder if my hotel shuttle was ever going to show up.