Published: May 28th, 2013
Source: Review copy from the author
Lizzy Bennet’s fundraising mission is to keep her homeless centre’s clients well-fed through a cold prairie winter. She meets the snobby and pompous William Darcy of Fitz & William Enterprises. While she’d never dare ask him for help, she can’t stop bumping into him — sometimes, quite literally. But when Lizzy’s campaign is cut short by the disappearance of her sixteen year old sister, William and his younger sister step in to help the woman they want to make part of their family. Inspired by Jane Austen’s classic, Pride and Prejudice, First (Wrong) Impressions is Lizzy’s quest for happiness, security, and love in the 21st century.
An important caveat to this review: this isn’t the type of book I would pick up on my own, so I was a little dubious from the get go. My long-term readers know I have certain… snobbish tendencies when it comes to literature, and the term “fan fiction” makes my skin crawl. Jane Austen fan fiction is an industry in it’s own right, moving out of the online shadows in recent years, with the success of mash ups like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and more literary rewrites like Death Comes to Pemberly. I thought I would give this a whirl as part of Austen in August, and after chatting on Twitter, author Krista D. Ball kindly gave me a review copy.
First (Wrong) Impressions gave me a case of just that; it didn’t end up being exactly what I thought it would at the start, and that’s a good thing, because my first impression was a paint-by-number retread of the source material, plopping 18th century characters into 21st century settings. As I pushed forward, my defenses were broken down by Ball’s humourous one-liners and, eventually, by her creativity in using very modern scenarios to show us a new side of Elizabeth (Lizzy) Bennett.
Our Lizzy works in a homeless refuge, essentially a soup kitchen, in inner city Edmonton – my hometown, and Ball’s. We are immediately introduced to Lizzy’s BFF Lukas Charlotte (gay, natch) and sisters, aspiring actress Lydia (spot on,) super-geek Mary (I wish she’d been goth!) and sweet Jane, who is missing a leg as a result of a freak accident. Charles, his stuck up sister, and Darcy enter quickly as well – from Calgary (of course.) Oh, and there’s Darcy’s sister, faded pop star G’Anna. There was so much going on in the first section, without a strong voice to ground it, it all felt a little artificial to me. I almost felt like there was a checklist – let’s make on character Aboriginal! And one gay! And one disabled! Ball definitely has a social agenda that plays out in this story, and I found it too heavy handed at first.
I had a hard time warming up to Lizzy, possibly because the perspective was a little strange. The novel is narrated by a third person omniscient observer, much like P&P, but Lizzy’s voice creeps in from time to time. I hate to make the comparison, because I ended up enjoying this novel far more, but Lizzie’s voice reminded me of Ana from Fifty Shades of Grey at times. There are a lot of interjections like “Arg, what a jerk!” and “Oh crap.” (but no “oh my” or inner goddesses, thank goodness!) These parts confused me – is that the narrator commenting? Is it Lizzy? Are we in her head now?
Social issues are at the heart of this story, and Ball didn’t skimp – she covers class issues, homelessness, food security, gay rights, racism, and date rape, to name a few. The parts that rang true for me were the examinations of class struggle – very much a part of Austen’s works, and still relevant today. The restaurant scene was excruciating, as Lizzie realizes she can’t afford to eat with Darcy and his crew, at a swanky restaurant that I was picturing as Hardware Grill:
She could do this, she thought. She had forty bucks in her bank account. She could easily get away with an entrée for that price. Lizzy calculated that she had another fifty or so left on her credit card, so she still had a small buffer in case she needed a taxi. She made a note to buy some bus tickets tomorrow, so she’d have a way around.
I was also surprised and impressed by the way Ball handled Lydia and Wickham’s unplanned pregnancy. I saw Lizzie and Lydia in a new light, and that’s what you want in an adaptation, right?
And that was Lydia’s return. Untamed. Unashamed. Loud. Brash. Tactless. And Lizzy realized how much she loved her baby sister, no matter how much she disagreed with he
By then end, when Liz and Darcy finally kiss (and more, it’s not the 18th century,) they’d won me over. If Austen adaptations are your thing, definitely give this a read. If they’re not, try it anyway – it’s a heck of a deal on Amazon and Kobo for $0.99.
Ball is planning another Austen adaptation, this time taking a second look at Mansfield Park. She also had this to say about the new book. I’m intrigued!