Remember last year when I did Austen in August and decided that even though Austen is Awesome, she kind of wasn’t for me (with the exception of Persuasion because let’s face it, Captain Wentworth is for everybody?) It’s a credit to Ms. Kerr’s persuasiveness (sorry) that I decided to read Follies Past. I didn’t want to set myself up for a disappointing read, or deal with the awkwardness of a writing a bad review of a local, self-published book. But over the course of a few weeks’ email correspondence, she wore me down. I picked up the ebook and girded myself.
It wasn’t just Kerr’s salesmanship (thought it was impressive) that convinced me. She created a series of wonderfully overwrought book trailers that are far more entertaining than those of best selling authors. And she blogs. Her blog is neither in your face promotion nor dubious writing tips; rather, it’s an interesting and educational look at what goes into writing a historical novel and publishing it yourself. Kerr’s expertise in the Regency era comes through in her fiction, but her blog really drives it home. My favourite posts are those about about peculiarities of Regency language, but she also rants about misuse of “beg the question,” one of my pet peeves.
What about the book?Right! The best thing about Follies Past is that the writing style comes oh-so-close to Austen, it feels completely natural and not at all like that “put a Zombie on it” brand of adaptation. Kerr’s wit isn’t quite as razor sharp, but that’s like saying you are slightly worse at playing piano that Mozart. I don’t know about you, but I read Austen for the sick burns more than the romance, and there are plenty here. Speaking of romance, here’s our hero contemplating marriage with Caroline:
A wife would bring select society into their home, would ensure Georgiana was exposed to tother people… and would save him the trouble of making friends himself…As he was not in the habit of receiving young ladies to Pemberley, Caroline was the only eligible person that he had lately witnessed about the place. Therefore, when he imagined a lady of the house, he imagine her as Caroline. He only wished that she were not so objectionable.
Insert sarcastic *swoon* here. And am I imagining all the Clueless references I’m finding these days? A reference to an Austen adaptation in an Austen adaptation?
She always intended to arrive as the sun was setting, in order that her complexion might profit by the glow of evening light.
Though a P&P prequel, I liked that the story picks up some themes from Austen’s other works. The frequent references to “bad” novels, including a shout out to The Monk which is the baddest gothic novel ever, made me think of poor Catherine in Northanger Abbey and her obsession with Anne Radcliffe novels. And Clare’s misadventures as she travels to stop Wickham before he goes to far reminded me of Catherine’s frustration as she deals with gross James.
I also enjoyed how Kerr didn’t stick to the tried and true P&P cast, she created Clare, the bad novel-loving friend of young Georgiana. Clare was not my favourite though. I always wanted to get back to the dastardly Wickham and oblivious Caroline. Kerr did a bang up job with these characters, who were so one-note in the original, but have real depth here, even though they’re the object of the narrator’s disdain. I got a sense for how society set them up with expectations they could not realize and how many of their vanities and fixations come out of that.
I *may* also have been predisposed to sympathize with Wickham due to the actor who plays him in the trailer. I mean, come ON.
For a reader like me, who isn’t big on Austen, adaptations, or romance, this book was a surprise and a delight. I’m glad the author wore me down. Janeite or not, the writing is worth the trip back to Pemberley.