Book Review: Dear Mr Knightley by Katherine Reay

Dear Mr. KnightleyDear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I am not one to read all of those "extra" Austen novels that are suddenly flooding the market. I'm quite content with the stories Austen herself wrote, thinking of my own writing and how much I would hate to have someone use one of my beloved characters almost 200 years after my death. However, my opinion is in the minority because these "extra" books are insanely popular. There's no point in my beating a dead horse with my protestations, so I figured I had to start somewhere. That somewhere turned out to be Katherine Reay's debut novel, Dear Mr. Knightley.

Novels written in letter format aren't my cup of tea. Where my sister read all of those Dear America books in her childhood, I simply couldn't bring myself to finish even one. It just felt so unnatural, reading someone else's journal or letters. Fortunately for Ms. Reay, her writing voice is strong enough that I adored her lead character, Samantha Moore, after only about 30 pages. One might even say that I "liked it against my will, against my reason." She's young, introverted, led a rough life as a foster kid, and now she's taking graduate courses through the charitable donations of a mysterious local foundation. Her one requirement to have her tuition is paid is that she write regular letters to the foundation's owner, a man who goes by the name of Mr. Knightley. Because Sam chose to retain her sanity by delving into classic literature, she feels she can trust someone who deliberately picks the name of a great literary character, and a good man.

The novel is comprised entirely of letters. That could have gotten old really quick, but it didn't because I empathize with Sam's character. She's timid and hides in her books, and she's a writer like me, albeit she's going to journalism grad school whereas I studied creative writing. I connect to her, and so it made her letters very intimate and relevant to the thoughts and doubts that often plague me. The book is beautifully written, and the characters are thought-provoking and entertaining. It exceeded every expectation I had for it on multiple levels.

Which leads me to the one downside. About 3/4 of the way through the book, a massively important event takes place in Sam's life. It's exciting and thrilling. However, the following letters are composed almost the same way as the previous letters. There's no real reference to the event, no changing of affectionate terms, and knowing Sam as I came to know her, she would have written those later letters differently. The author lost her voice a little bit there. Also, I wasn't all that keen on the identity of Mr. Knightley. I suspected the road would lead there, but I also wished it hadn't because than the story became a little cliche at the end. Mr. Knightley should have been someone else. I even had a suspicion about his identity during a race Sam ran.

The story would have been much more fulfilling for me as a reader without the sappy, slightly contrived ending. I love the romance, and wouldn't want Sam with anyone else, but various elements of that ending simply didn't work for me. Up to that point, the story almost felt like real life, and then it felt like a fairy tale. Which is why I'm giving 4 stars instead of the 5 that I was so willing to bestow up until the final 50 pages of the book. Regardless, Ms. Reay has a great start to her writing career, and I eagerly anticipate her next novel.

For the rest of my reviews, see my page HERE.

Comments

  1. I guessed the "twist" in the end so I wasn't really disappointed either way about this novel. :)

    Glad you enjoyed it, Carissa, despite the ending.

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    1. Oh, it was excellent. I suspected the ending would be what it was, I just didn't want it too. I wanted Ms. Reay to strive for a different conclusion, something unique instead of using a typical cliche. Ah well, it's still an excellent debut novel and I really did enjoy reading it.

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  2. I see this one getting reviewed all over the place, but I really just have no interest in it.

    If you want to read some slightly fluffy, but very entertaining and amusing takes on Austen, I really like Amanda Grange's "diary" series. I love following something heavy or deep with one of them as a way to sort of balance my reading world out a bit.

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    1. I think I liked it because of Sam's background. I could empathize with her life experiences and her fears, plus she's a writer like me. It was cute and dramatic, but not one for me to re-read, I think.

      I just recommended my library purchase the e-book for Mr. Darcy's Diary. I could get it as soon as this Saturday since they process those requests really fast. We'll see what I think!

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    2. Awesome! I think I like Colonel Brandon's Diary the best of the ones I've read so far, mostly because it really fills in a lot of gaps. Darcy's is quite nice, and Henry Tilney's is funny, and Captain Wentworth's is my other favorite just cuz he's my fave Austen hero anyway (and Persuasion is my fave Austen novel). I haven't read Edmund Bertram's or Mr. Knightley's yet.

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    3. Oh my GOSH, my favorite Austen novel is Persuasion too! I absolutely must request Wentworth's journal now. I don't know, I just love the patience exhibited in Persuasion. Anne is so genuine, and I love watching her grow. She's different Austen's other heroines, and in the best possible way. Have you ever seen The Lake House with Sandra Bullock? There's a 5 minute conversation about Persuasion in it! It's such a cute little time travel romance, absolutely adorable, made all the better with its references to Austen. :)

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    4. NO WAY! Wow. Kindred spirits here or something. I love the patience too, the non-fairy-tale aspect of the romance in Persuasion. The love feels more real, more true to life. And yes, Anne is so different. Strong and patient and kind, but not a milksop, not a saint, not naive, not overly emotional, not overly restrained, not slyly witty... she's genuine and nice.

      I haven't seen The Lake House though Sandra Bullock is one of my favorite actresses. Is it the time-traveling one with Keanu Reeves? I vaguely remember when it came out.

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    5. Yes, The Lake House is the one with Keanu Reeves. I usually don't like him, except when he's with Sandra. Then they're just so absolutely adorable! It's really on of my favorite modern romances!

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  3. To be this was an alright read it wasn't a favorite. I am not big on the Jane Austen retellings or extras. I prefer the original novels. My favorites are a toss up between Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice. Though Northanger Abbey is a close third.

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    1. My opinion of all the "extra" Austen fiction out there might end up changing. I'm reading a diary of Captain Wentworth right now, and really, really liking it! Of course, he's also one of my favorite Austen heroes, so that might play a role in my affections. ;)

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  4. Well now you've got me really interested in this book. I'll have to put it on my list of books to read in the future (which is quite enormous now and ever-growing becuz I, sadly, spend more time watching shows than reading. I know, I know, it's sad. hehe). I think I'm really intrigued because you liked it despite its format. Because I can say honestly I really don't like letter novels. The premise sounds pretty cute and fun though.

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    1. *laughs* It's okay to waver a bit and watch your tv shows. Sometimes I marathon mine and watch an entire series in a two week span. Probably not all that healthy, but a whole love of fun!

      I think I liked Dear Mr. Knightley because I connected to the heroine almost immediately. If I hadn't liked her, the book would have been excruciatingly slow going. As it is, she's fun, a bit whacky, but fun. If you do get a chance to read it someday, I hope you like it!

      Are you on Goodreads? That's where I'm most active with the books I'm reading and reviewing. :)

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