His Good Opinion is, in brief, Pride and Prejudice from Darcy's point of view. What exactly did he say to Bingley to keep him away from Netherfield? What was he thinking when he made that bone-headed first proposal to Elizabeth? How exactly did he track down Wickham? Here it is.
It's more like a writing exercise than a novel, in some ways. It becomes a little pedantic – it reads like every single thought in Darcy's head is revealed, and his reaction to nearly every line of dialogue to which he is privy. It becomes a little repetitive – there is a fair amount of Reality Show-Style Recapping (the I know – it was five minutes ago, and I was here sort of summing up); and it becomes a little claustrophobic. I never thought I would protest being stuck alone with Fitzwilliam Darcy for a whole book.
This version of Darcy makes me think of an anxious stallion trying to rule over a herd of unruly mares. (Not in a good way, I have to add, thinking of how that would read in a romance novel.) Heaven forfend any other male intervene with any of his wimmenfolk. He runs off Wickham after the blackguard trifles with Georgiana, and then has to try to beat off Miss Bingley (who's a bitch, not a stallion, but you get the idea). He attaches himself to Elizabeth whether she knows it or not, and figuratively bares his teeth and puts his ears back when anyone approaches her – Bingley, Col. Fitzwilliam, doesn't matter how much he loves the other man, he's ready to draw blood every time she as much as smiles at anyone else.
In other ways he reminds me of a teenaged boy with his first big crush. He blushes; she blushes; one or both blush again. (I wish my Kindle would allow me to use the search function without freezing up – I'd love to see how many times "blush" is used.) He stumbles over his speech because she discombobulates him so. (Side note: Word spellcheck has no problem with "discombobulates".) He completely misreads her, taking her slightly acid politeness as approval. Now, this is reasonable enough – love makes everyone act like an idiot, right? But all together, it's just amazingly adolescent, and not remotely the Darcy I'm accustomed to. I don't much like the intensity of his self-centeredness as shown here, with almost every kind or thoughtful thing he does having its origin in what Elizabeth will think of him, from Georgiana's piano to his respect for the Gardiners. That degree of change in a grown man isn't entirely believable.
Odd quote: "For the first time he noticed a dimple that winked in and out of existence." - Um, no? Unless I'm thinking of another book, he spent a whole conversation earlier in the story zoned out watching that dimple appear and disappear.
I wish the author had used a lighter touch on the story. There was no real need to expound on nearly every possible original Darcy line. Anyone reading this book is probably a fan of Austen and familiar with Pride and Prejudice – odds are good that anyone reading it will be very familiar. It becomes tiresome to have large tracts of The Book recycled into this, often verbatim. It's inevitable, I suppose, with the premise, but I could wish the situation had been handled more creatively. Again, the actual execution of this comes off more as an exercise: "let's see what the picture looks like when you move the camera over there", rather than "let's put the subject under a different-colored light and change the lens and see what it looks like".
Another major drawback to using original dialogue is that it forces comparisons between Nancy Kelley's writing at the top and bottom of a page and Jane Austen's in the middle. This is what Anna Elliott successfully avoided in her Diary of Georgiana Darcy – she was able to use Jane Austen's characters without opening herself up to the stark contrast. This is the point when I feel impelled to place bits of text from Kelley and Austen side by side to illustrate what a very, very, very bad idea it is … but do I even have to? Really?
Changing the viewpoint of the book is a fun idea. There's a lot that is never really clarified in P&P, and lots of room for creativity and expansion. But once the story reached Darcy's deal with Wickham, I started to realize why it is Jane Austen didn't include all of that. Yes, there's the legend that she did not feel comfortable writing scenes between men – but, also, it's depressing. The tenor of at least the first half of the book is light and funny, and fun. This … this is not light, nor funny, and certainly not fun. It's queasy-making, especially here and now, to read of Wickham's … evil? Is that too strong a word to use for a pedophile set in a time and place that considered fifteen years old old enough?
It's hard to read a more detailed account of Lydia's intense stupidity and frivolity, and Wickham's intransigence, and what Darcy had to do to force the latter to marry the former. That their marriage was the solution to the situation has always been a difficult thing to reconcile, and here more than ever. The story is told well enough – although I did find it odd that Darcy bargains with Mrs. Younge for whatever information she can give, but does not try to negotiate with Wickham. Wicky names the sum it will take to make him marry the little bimbo (just as Elizabeth and/or her father says, depending on which film version you go by), and Darcy just agrees.
P&P glided over the details of Lydia's ruin, as I recall – it was understood, not explicit, that Lydia was Living In Sin with Wicky. By the time Jane Austen brought the little tart and her big disgusting husband back into the picture resigned relief was allowing the tone to lighten back up again. From this angle it becomes a much more serious novel, of one sweet teenaged girl who has been badly injured and one brainless and thoughtless girl ("Foolish, headstrong girl!") who doesn't even notice the damage she leaves in her wake, and a man who, having been forced into marrying the featherbrained bint, will take it out on her for as long as they both shall live.
I'm not laughing. Not even smiling.
There are two questions that have lingered in my mind after watching the two more recent film adaptations of P&P: why did Wickham run off with the worthless Lydia, and where did the rumor start that Lizzie was engaged to Darcy? Kelley fields the first one, and answers it well – it's really the only explanation that makes sense.
Lately it seems like for each book which teeters on the border of "meh" and "ARGH" there is a single line which pushes it over into "ARGH" territory – with a complement of exclamation points as required. For His Good Opinion, at the 72% mark, the line was "Oh, no. Do not go there." Really? In, what, 1813? "Don't go there"?? Oh. It hurts. Even more than it did when Darcy "called [Lizzie] on" something.
"Make him do the right thing, Fitzwilliam. Make sure Elizabeth's sister is the last young lady he ensnares with false promises." … Though he knew these vows would not keep Wickham from dallying with other females, at least he would not be able to promise marriage to innocents.
Okay, first of all, this is one of those moments when I am glad it's 2013, a time when marrying the S.O.B. would not be an option, much less the only one. And secondly – Says who? What's to stop him? If he approaches another feather-brained fifteen-year-old girl, one who lives in another town where he's encamped, or shortly after they move into wherever they're going to be living, before Lydia has made a name for herself – or simply in another circle where no one knows anything about the Regulars – what's to stop him doing the exact same thing again? I don't see Wickham balking at bigamy. (There's a cozy mystery title for whoever wants it: Balking at Bigamy.)