Saturday, March 12, 2011

Arty -- Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman

Julia is the unfortunate best friend of an Enthusiast. Ashleigh's crazes never last long, but while they do, Ashleigh has to pursue everything remotely related to the current one - and she drags Julie along with her.

Julie tries not to complain. After all, if not for Ashleigh, where would she have learned candy-making? But now Ashleigh's craze is also Julie's - Jane Austen. After reading Pride and Prejudice at Julie's request, Ashleigh is determined to meet her Mr. Darcy. And she has a plan to do it - crash a 'ball' an all-boy prep school, of course.

While they're there, it's Julie who thinks she's found Mr. Darcy - handsome kendo expert Grandison Parr. There's just one problem: Ashleigh's fallen for Parr too. Forgot stealing Julie's favorite books - is her Enthusiast friend going to steal her guy too?

This is definitely chick lit. I had no illusions about that. But this is Jane Austen chick lit, so that makes it all a whole lot better.

For one thing, not every waking moment is panicking about Parr or any of the other guys. Julie is an intelligent, mature girl, and her decisions concerning Ashleigh's and Parr's 'romance' is really selfless. At first I was afraid it'd turn into a he-doesn't-like-me-so-I'll-be-miserable sort of situation, but it didn't. You could say Enthusiasm is more of a friendship story than a romance, with the way both Julie and Ashleigh gave up certain things to make the other happy.

I also really enjoyed the way Shulman didn't make Parr perfect. Not that he wasn't darn close, but he read like a real guy - kind of awkward at first, unsure of himself.

Enthusiasm wasn't perfect. Readers of Pride and Prejudice will recognize some definite characters and plot twists, but those parts just weren't executed as well as Shulman's original parts. It felt like she was trying too hard - the trip to New York (mirroring the trip Elizabeth Bennet took with her aunt and uncle) was practically tossed into the book for good measure; Chris, the Wickham figure, had very little real value to the plot; and Seth's position of Mr. Collins was more than a little awkward.

Enthusiasm had a great beginning, but towards the end, everything just fell apart. It felt much more like any other chick lit novel than a witty Jane Austenian take-off. I can understand how pulling off an ending like Jane Austen would be difficult, but it seems like Shulman barely even tried.

So if you're a fan of friendship/romance novels, Jane Austen, or if you just need a quick read for the beach, without thinking too hard, Enthusiasm is the perfect book for you.

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