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"All is not as it seems."
on September 25, 2011
In "Definitely Not Mr. Darcy," by Karen Doornebos, thirty-nine year old Chloe Parker (who is divorced with an eight-year-old daughter) leaves Chicago to participate in a reality show set in England in 1812. First prize is $100,000. To win it, she will have to outperform the other lovely contestants and convince a hunky and wealthy landowner, Sebastian Wrightman, to propose. Think of it as "The Bachelorette" meets "Pride and Prejudice." On the set of the show that bears the cheesy title, "How to Date Mr. Darcy," everything appears authentic: no electricity, showers, deodorant, modern rest rooms, television, cell phones, or computers. Chloe and her British competitors all have maidservants to fix their hair, dress them, and tend to their every need. In addition, contestants are asked to demonstrate their skills at archery, needlework, and playing a musical instrument in order to earn "Accomplishment Points."
At first, Chloe is delighted and enthusiastic to be living her dream. After all, she is a walking encyclopedia on everything Jane Austen. Still, Chloe soon misses her daughter and longs for the pleasures of basic hygiene (even soap and hot water are considered luxuries) and electronic communication. Nor is she thrilled to have cameras following her around. Fortunately, Chloe is pleasantly diverted not only by the gorgeous Sebastian, but also by his devastatingly attractive brother, Henry.
Doornebos has a feel for the Regency period and she effectively captures the atmosphere of Austen's novels. There are stately dinners, formal balls, a mock fox hunt, and semi-chaste courtships. Readers will be amused by some nice comic touches: One of the contestants frequently has her way with dashing footmen, another suffers from chronic allergies, and Chloe is a klutz who is forever putting her foot in her mouth and messing up her fancy dresses.
"Definitely Not Mr. Darcy" is a light and frothy send-up of silly reality programs, but it does not have the mandatory romantic buzz. Most readers will be able to predict where the plot is headed, and the love scenes are as synthetic as the show itself. Chloe is a bit of a contradiction. On the one hand, she is needy and desperate for the prize money. Yet, in a few short weeks, she suddenly becomes independent and strong-minded. Although there are some entertaining moments in this humorous novel, "Definitely Not Mr. Darcy" is too long, drags towards the end, and does not fully deliver on its initial promise.