Jane Austen fans recently celebrated the 201st anniversary of what likely is the author’s most famous book, Pride and Prejudice. Two centuries since its original publication, the beloved novel hasn’t lost a step, with legions of new readers falling in love with it every year, tens of thousands of copies from various publishers selling like hot scones, and related merchandise flying off shelves. Readers still can’t get enough of Miss Austen or anything that has anything to do with her—nearly two hundred years since her death.
Author Karen Doornebos can certainly count herself one of Austen’s biggest living fans. The author of Definitely Not Mr. Darcy (Berkley, 2011) hit publishing gold with the publication of her first novel—a story sixteen years in the making. Fans of Doornebos’s charming debut novel didn’t have to wait nearly as long for her follow-up title, Undressing Mr. Darcy, which published in December 2013.
Doornebos, a life member of The Jane Austen Society of North America, knows her Austen—and loves her Austen. That enthusiasm shines through brightly in Undressing Mr. Darcy, a charming, funny, lively, breezy novel that finds protagonist Vanessa Roberts stumbling through her personal life while charging through her professional life—and finding that balancing the two isn’t always (or even ever) easy.
Roberts, a thirty-five-year-old PR exec and social-media guru, volunteers to help her charming aunt, Ella, who is organizing the Jane Austen Society of North America’s annual conference, an event that takes place in Chicago. Sweet Ella, something of an adorable old biddy, has invited one Julian Chancellor from England to be the keynote speaker. Chancellor’s headline event is titled “Undressing Mr. Darcy” and is something of a provocative, informational strip tease designed to educate and entertain conference-goers about the dress and clothing of Regency men.
As one might expect, sparks fly when Roberts and Chancellor are thrown together, and those sparks are palpable. Doornebos has brought to life some energetic, emotional characters who draw in readers like moths to the flame. Add in a rival suitor, a wacky new friend, a bitchy old friend, and a host of other characters, and one finds in Undressing Mr. Darcy a circle of characters anyone would be lucky to meet in person.
This fast-paced novel is full of laughs, but there’s something more here than just a light-hearted romp through Austenland. Amidst all the romance, surrounding all the flirting and the sex, and swirling around all the friendship and love are undertones of the challenges of balancing work and love and life and the benefits of disconnecting from our gadgets in a world increasingly obsessed with nonstop chattering. Doornebos in no way treats these issues in a heavy manner, but they’re there, making the reader think a little …
… though not too much. Undressing Mr. Darcy is funny and witty. The characters are well drawn, the settings engaging. Some hardcore Jane Austen fans may not appreciate the few steamy sex scenes, but those scenes only make the story feel more real and more now. Doornebos has done a fine job balancing Regency romance with new millennium modern love. As such, Undressing Mr. Darcy is sure to appeal to incurable romantics who can’t get enough of anything Austen.
December 2013, Berkley Books
$15, paperback, 356 pages
—Reviewed by Kelli Christiansen