Reading challenge book 15: Dancing with Mr Darcy

Book 15 in my challenge to read one book (I haven’t read before) a fortnight in 2012 is Dancing with Mr Darcy.

Dancing with Mr Darcy is a collection of short stories inspired by the novels and characters of Jane Austen, or by Chawton House, the place where she once lived.

All the stories are original and by authors who simply put themselves forward for this particular competition, so there are no well-known faces apart from Sarah Waters, who wrote the introduction.

Yet for amateurs, the quality of writing is deliciously high.

My favourite story in the collection was Cleverclogs by Hilary Spiers. The story of a girl whose grandmother falls ill, Cleverclogs has a slightly melancholy edge, and the central character reminded me so much of me. While I’ve never counted how many words I’ve read in a day, I was that girl who read anything and everything she could get her hands on when she was younger, and I’m still the same way. I read at the dinner table, I read on the Tube, I read on planes, I read newspapers and magazines and leaflets and recipe books and fiction and non-fiction. I felt a real connection with the protagonist of Cleverclogs, who so often finds escape in reading, but discovers that in bad situations fiction can be a healer and can help bring someone back to reality.

Many of the tales in Dancing with Mr Darcy are set in Jane Austen’s world, but for me the best ones are those which take the spirit of Austen and infuse that into something completely different. Snowmelt is a wonderful almost end-of-the-world story, about a librarian who finds the world changing around her. Its central character is all Austen characters in one, and perhaps also a bit of Austen herself. And yes, a slight pattern is emerging for me here – the stories I love the best are the ones about reading.

When it comes to romance, Eight Years Later is a gorgeous love story about a man who wants to reconnect with the young, vivacious teacher he met while he was her pupil. It could be a tawdry story, but it’s not. One of Austen’s favourite tools was unrequited love (eventually requited) and this takes that and puts it in a modern context, with the actual setting Chawton House. The two characters, never anything but appropriate during all their previous dealings, finally let Austen bring them together.

For Austen lovers, Dancing with Mr Darcy is a lovely collection of stories to remind them why they love Austen so. And for those who haven’t read anything by the author, this book is a starting point, showing readers the feelings and tales the great author can inspire, and will hopefully lead to many more people picking up a book by Austen.

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