‘He’s amazing. I’d get in his car any day arrogant or not.’
‘Yeah, and I’d pay the petrol,’ agreed Mo.
‘God, listen to you two,’ said Jazz. ‘Anyone would think your brains turned to jelly in the presence of a man. Does the word emancipation mean anything to you? Women burnt their bras for you, you know.’
‘Why?’ asked George, nonplussed. ‘Were they planning to wear backless dresses?’
‘If anyone burnt my Wonderbra, I’d boil their heads,’ said Mo.
(from Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field, page 107)
Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field is the story of a journalist for a women’s magazine who lands the lead in a one-night, charity production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Not only does Jasmin Field get to play Elizabeth Bennet on the stage, but she is Elizabeth Bennet — from her charming wit to her “terrifying” impertinence, from her snap judgments about people to her inability to tolerate the arrogant Harry Noble, the Oscar-winning actor directing the production, who eventually takes up the role of Mr. Darcy. Melissa Nathan’s modern-day retelling of Pride and Prejudice is unique in that its backdrop is a stage production of the classic novel, and it’s not until Jasmin overhears Harry call her the “Ugly Sister” at the audition that the parallels between Jasmin’s life and Austen’s novel become apparent.
Jasmin earns her living by judging people, and she is more focused on her career — particularly the column in which she depicts her younger sister Josie’s happiness as a housewife and stay-at-home mom by choice — than on finding a man. In fact, she can’t stand that her older sister, Georgia, can’t be without a boyfriend, even refusing to dump a guy who is obviously wrong for her. When Georgia lands the role of Jane Bennet, she immediately starts seeing Jack Hayes, the actor playing Mr. Bingley. Harry Noble apparently is very adept when it comes to casting because he gives the role of Charlotte Lucas to Jazz’s best friend, Mo, who is dieting simply to get a man — any man — and the role of Mr. Collins to Gilbert Valentine, Jazz’s former colleague, who can’t take no for an answer and has manipulated actors into treating him like a friend to avoid having vicious gossip spread about them.
Jazz falls into the routine of rehearsals and finds that she enjoys acting — when Harry isn’t singling her out to show her up or staring at her intently. She enjoys flirting with William Whitby, who plays a priest on TV and Mr. Wickham in the play. Not only is he handsome and charming, but they also bond over their mutual dislike of Mr. Noble. But Harry proves himself to be more than meets the eye, and it’s not long before Jazz realizes she’s been wrong about a lot of things.
Nathan does a great job updating the characters, especially Jazz and Harry. He’s as sexy and endearing as you’d expect a modern-day Mr. Darcy to be, and Jazz is confident and fearless. I loved the fact that Nathan’s Darcy was willing to admit that her Elizabeth scared him a little. And the novel is funny, from Gilbert and Mo’s morning-after interaction to Harry and Jasmin’s heated exchange when he first tries to kiss her against his better judgment.
Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field is one of the best modern retellings of Pride and Prejudice that I’ve read so far. I loved how Nathan balances the drama of the stage production with Jazz’s real-life drama and how she stayed true to the original plot but also made it her own. It was fun to spot the parallels beyond the obvious Elizabeth/Mr. Darcy storyline and to not know exactly what would happen in the end. Nathan breathes new life into a timeless story and plays homage to Austen’s long-lasting popularity in this fun, well-paced novel.
Disclosure: I borrowed Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field from the public library.
© 2013 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.