Claire is one of those longsuffering heroines that readers tend to either really identify with or supremely hate. Since her parents’ deaths when she was 18, she has done everything in her power to help her younger sister, Missy. Claire sacrificed her education, getting a GED and foregoing college. She sacrificed a good job: most recently she was an office manager for a pediatricians’ office, and has been recently laid of. She’s been unlucky in men, settling for Neil, a sports enthusiast who, while nice enough, may not even know that Claire’s off to Oxford, in her sister’s place, for a weeklong seminar on Pride and Prejudice.
It’s only once Claire’s across the pond that all she’s sacrificed comes plainly into view. She meets James — suave, polished, gorgeous, rich — and immediately falls for him. In addition, she meets Harriet, of the Formidables (a society devoted to keeping Austen’s secrets), who lets Claire in on a big secret: she has the original copy of First Impressions, the novel P&P is based on. As Claire reads on — noting the substantial changes from the final novel — she finds similarities to her own life (funny how that happens), and ends up doing some major soul searching. It’s a happily-ever-after, but not the one that you were expecting.
I should be jumping and cheering: the average Joe gets the girl! Claire goes with the normal, the everyday, and finds happiness. Yet … Claire is so insipid that I could hardly stand her enough to get through the novel. She eventually finds a backbone, but not before she goes through pages and pages of waffling. Sure, she’s still grieving over the loss of her parents — or, rather, she’s suppressed the grieving process in favor of responsibility — but we’re never really given much of a chance to connect with her on that level. But what really bugged me were the significant changes to the P&P story. Sure, it’s nice to imagine that a copy of First Impressions could be out there, and sure, it’s plausible that the story could be radically different from the final P&P, but it just didn’t work for me. At all. Period. I skipped those pages, cringing at the attempt to capture the magic that is Jane Austen.
As the characters in the novel eventually figure out: some things are better left untouched.