Doctor Elizabeth Bennet is used to dealing with ill, poverty-stricken patients in Vietnam, where she divides her time between treating the sick and helping her sister, Jane, at a nearby orphanage. But she’s not accustomed to dealing with handsome, bristly men like William Darcy bossing her around as she tries to do her job — especially when that job means treating his best friend, Charles, as the pair arrive far from home.
Getting off on the wrong foot, Elizabeth’s unpleasant opinion of William is pretty steadfast. Her disinterest doesn’t really matter, though; she’s convinced Charles and William are actually a clandestine couple (!) wanting to adopt a child, so it doesn’t matter that he’s ridiculously good-looking. And chivalrous. And actually very kindhearted. As the two get to know one another, inexperienced-in-love Elizabeth sees Darcy in a new light . . .
Nina Benneton’s Compulsively Mr. Darcy is a unique contribution to the expansive world of Jane Austen fiction, though I can’t say I was bowled over by this imagining. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, our favorite couple, are transported from Regency England to modern-day Vietnam, where Elizabeth’s job as a physician keeps her from dating much. She doesn’t expect to fall for Darcy, especially as her first meeting with him goes so poorly, but Austen fanatics know there can only be one outcome for this tale of — ahem — pride and prejudice.
First, the good: I liked how Benneton translated Darcy’s steadfast nature and strict attention to detail into an obsessive-compulsive disorder. It makes sense, really, and wasn’t overdone. Readers aren’t subjected to Darcy washing his hands under burning-hot water 45 times a day or checking and re-checking locks. We’re aware of his OCD, of course, but Benneton used a light touch to portray that very human, fallible part of Darcy’s nature. I dug it.
The setting was amazing, too — I mean, how many novels have I read set in Vietnam? None, actually. The very British Darcy was an interesting contrast to Elizabeth, an earthy and low-maintenance American, and I could see how they balanced each other. While Darcy was pacing around, dealing with quirky relatives and a high-powered job, Elizabeth was helping her Korean patients and trying to ignore her attraction to Darcy. It was amusing.
At first, anyway. For all Benneton’s assertions that Elizabeth is an intelligent, independent woman — a doctor, for cryin’ out loud — she becomes a complete idiot around (and about) Darcy. I know what you’re thinking: when we fall in love for the first time, as Elizabeth does, what woman doesn’t temporarily lose her common sense? And I would agree with you, friends. We often do become morons. But not in the obvious, ridiculous ways Elizabeth does. I was riding the Compulsively Mr. Darcy train until she began griping to Jane, her sweet sister, about how Darcy didn’t want to sleep with her after “seriously dating for days.” Yes: days. Virginal Elizabeth, so nervous and apprehensive about sex after some weird incident in her youth, can’t understand why the serious, analytical Darcy doesn’t want to hop into the sack immediately.
And okay, this is romance. I get it. But it just didn’t jive with me — it felt too forced, too unreal. I’m no prude, but I had a hard time taking Elizabeth seriously after she made so many awkward moves. To me, her behavior just wasn’t realistic — and I couldn’t relate to her much after she went so stark-raving crazy. The decisions she makes after they’ve been “dating” (mind you, he’s only in Vietnam temporarily — on a half-“vacation”) for mere days seemed ridiculous.
But was this book entertaining? Yes. I read it quickly, enjoying Benneton’s modern interpretation of Darcy and Elizabeth’s quirks. Nothing here rocked my world, but it was a pleasant diversion and an interesting addition to the Austen fiction canon. The familiar cast is well represented, including George Wickham (the cad!) and the annoying Bill Collins, and I liked finding their cameos in the fast-paced plot.
While cheesy lines akin to “My love, you are the very air I breathe” prompted eye-rolling, Compulsively Mr. Darcy is still a reasonably fun novel that may appeal to die-hard Austen fans wanting to reconnect with our favorite couple in a different place and time. Would I recommend it? Not over many other Pride and Prejudice-inspired books I’ve read, especially Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell. But give it a try for something a little different.
3 out of 5!