Dear Mr. Knightley is a contemporary epistolary novel with a delightful dash of Jane Austen.
I beg to differ, there was not a dash of Jane Austen in Dear Mr. Knightley it was more like the top fell off the salt shaker. I was terribly disappointed in Dear Mr. Knightley, I adore Jane Austen, the originals, retellings, modernizations what have you, even the cover tempted me. All of the components seemed to be present, truly I am still trying to figure out what went wrong with Katherine Reay’s story.
Samantha Moore survived years of darkness in the foster care system by hiding behind her favorite characters in literature, even adopting their very words. Her fictional friends give her an identity, albeit a borrowed one. But most importantly, they protect her from revealing her true self and encountering more pain.
After college, Samantha receives an extraordinary opportunity. The anonymous “Mr. Knightley” offers her a full scholarship to earn her graduate degree at the prestigious Medill School of Journalism. The sole condition is that Sam write to Mr. Knightley regularly to keep him apprised of her progress.
I have read a few epistolary formatted novels recently and I think part of my issue with Dear Mr. Knightley was plain overexposure. There is no contribution from Mr. Knightley to balance the constant barrage of Samantha or at least there wasn’t at the 20% point where I packed it in and called it a day. Samantha is withdrawn and isolated unsurprising considering she grew up in the foster care system. Her character was hard to sympathize with and the ridiculous quoting of novels was out of place in a contemporary setting and frankly jarring when attempting to follow the course of the story. I found her character next to impossible to like let alone empathize with and I just could not find it within myself to persevere.
Ultimately, I think it was the utter lack of a single relate-able Austenesque plot that compromised my ability to enjoy this novel. If the author had selected a one work and used that as the framework for the rest, the whole might have seemed more coherent. For example, Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey both feature characters separated from their families and their progression from relative innocents to maturity. Northanger Abbey would have been particularly apt given Catherine Morland’s fascination with Gothic novels.
AUTHOR: Katherine Reay
Disclaimer: ARC was kindly provided by the publisher for an honest review.
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