Monday, December 01, 2008

Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman

This novel has a certain charm to it that I can't tell if it's in my head or actually present in the novel. I know that doesn't make much sense but for some reason, as I read this novel, I had an 18th century British accent speaking the words which may or may not have been influenced by the character's enthusiasm for Jane Austen. Whatever the case, it added something to the reading experience of this enjoyable novel.

Julie's best friend Ashleigh is a bit of an enthusiast where she basically becomes obsessed with one thing and won't give up, no matter how eccentric it is, until something else catches her eye. Her latest fad is Jane Austen and that includes dressing like the characters from her novels and speaking like them (i.e. the 18th Century British voice in my head). Ashleigh insists that she and Julie need to find their Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley and the only place for them to find suitable suitors would be at the all boy prep school in town, particularly at the fall formal. As luck would have it, they are successful in finding two such men, Parr and Ned. As perfect as it would sound, there being two girls and two boys, it turns out that the man Ashleigh hooks up with - Parr - just happens to be the same boy Julie has seen around town and formed a major crush on. And so ensues the constant struggle for Julie with her emotions over her feeling for Ashleigh's "boyfriend." To make matters worse, they join a musical at the boy's school where she's constantly in his presence while trying to hide her feelings and, on top of that, there's the "igsome" Seth who likes Julie despite the fact that she doesn't harbor the same feelings. Will Parr realize her true feelings for him? Will they ever be together with Ashleigh in the way? And will Seth ever get a clue that Julie just doesn't Like him?

This novel is really enjoyable, especially how it plays off of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and even incorporates some Shakespeare with sonnets and the musical based on A Midsummer Night's Dream. The situations and struggles are classic and thoroughly delightful. Ashleigh is a great character. I loved how eccentric she was and how loyal she is to both her cause and her friend. Julie, the narrator, is definitely a character that you cheer for and Parr, well, he's the guy you root for her to end up with. Everything fit together perfectly, although the accent started to drive me crazy. It was nice for Ashleigh speaking in the dialect - it made her enthusiasm authentic - but I felt as though the narrator tended to pick up some subtle undertones of the style and that maybe put it over the top. It did make it feel more attune with Jane Austen, but if I wanted to read an Austenian novel, I would have picked one up. Then again, maybe it's just the voices in my head and the whole style is what makes the novel so different.

Writing style and accents aside, I really enjoyed the story. It's a modern chic lit with the perfect hint of classic literature to make it a masterpiece - or at least a runner up.

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