Jasmin “Jazz” Field is a snarky, thirty-something British journalist who is happy to be single. Her beautiful and sweet sister George may go from admirer to admirer, but Jazz doesn’t need a man to make her feel complete. She’s content living with her fussy best friend Mo, writing her weekly column about the “perfect” life of her have-it-all married sister Josie and wittily criticizing everyone she meets. So when auditions for a charity production of Pride and Prejudice are opened to the public, Jazz wouldn’t miss spying on famous actors and celebrities for the world, particularly Oscar winning, sexy, A-list actor Harry Noble, who is the director. Dragging along George and Mo, who both get parts, Jazz is one of the last to audition. Just before she is about to go on stage, she overhears Harry calling her “The Ugly Sister.” Turns out that was just what Jazz needed to bring out the boiling contempt needed for the Darcy/Lizzy proposal scene and quick enough, she’s landed the part. Hilarity ensues as Jazz figures out through all the journalistic fodder her role provides how to have a civil relationship with arrogant, condescending Harry, whom she already hates with a passion.
I’m normally wary of Austen retellings, and retellings of my favorite books in general because they tend to pale severely in comparison to their originals. So it was with serious reservations and several questions I opened Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field. Would these beloved characters be butchered in a modern interpretation, or would the essence and spirit of their characters shine through without being anachronistic? Will the hallmark scenes be adapted to my disliking or deleted altogether? It’s probably not a question if Jane Austen herself would be turning over in her grave, but would I be offended at the cheap results? Hit or miss, a retelling should at least be an inoffensive and entertaining revision of the story and at most a creative, original work that stands on its own two feet – whether loosely inspired by or a faithful interpretation of the original. A retelling should make you want to go back to the original, and not out of compensation for suffering through a poorer copy. Happily, Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field is a modern retelling that was a great read on its own as well as a reading experience which enhanced my enjoyment of both the original and the many film adaptations of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Make it or break it for retellings strongly hinges upon the main characters, and Jazz and Harry are spot-on. Jazz’s occupation is perfect to showcase her judgmental wit, and Harry’s career as a Hollywood actor was a clever and accurate real-life translation. I may be biased but a near flawless, recent retelling of a classic comes to mind (Jane by April Lindner), in which Mr. Rochester is cast as a rock star. Harry is more likable to the general public perhaps than Mr. Darcy is but those close to Harry see past his handsome, charismatic façade to the pride underneath. There are some interesting variations from the original here, which for the most part I liked, particularly a clever take on Pemberley, a funny interpretation of Mr. Collins, and an icky modern characterization of Wickham. It’s all very British, so be prepared for swearing, though I hardly noticed it, and turns of phrase such as “twat” and “hell, damnation, and buggery bullocks,” which Jazz uses throughout the novel and I found hilarious. There are also a few laugh-out-loud moments involving Jazz and her shameless and vocal dislike of exercise and dieting and her always ready snark. One of my favorite quotes from when Jazz first meets Harry and the rest of the production team at the audition:
“’Hi,’(cough), ‘my name is Jasmin Field. I’m a journalist. So don’t piss me off. Ha ha. And um – well, I can’t really act. Ha ha.’ No one laughed.”
Best of all there’s the character development you’d expect from Jazz and Harry. Like Darcy and Elizabeth, they confront each other until their flaws are revealed and the guilt and desire to change follows. I loved Jazz and Harry for their insistence to take sole responsibility for any injury inflicted on one another and their vulnerability, which creates some funny moments. While I found the mirroring of the castings and the real life characters of Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field redundant, the novel left me pinning for a reread of Pride and Prejudice, an indulgent umpteenth viewing of the A&E Colin Firth adaptation, and for more from Melissa Nathan. She has another Austen retelling called Persuading Annie which I’m dying to try despite my fickleness with Persuasion retellings.