15 November 2013

Review: Dear Mr Knightley by Katherine Reay

Contemporary retelling of an old favourite

Samantha Moore grew up in a variety of foster homes before arriving at Grace House when she was fifteen. Some of the foster homes were good, but most were not and she coped by retreating into a world of classic fiction, from Jane Austen to Dickens to Shakespeare. Whenever she can’t think of something to say, she retreats into fiction (a device which could become tedious but never quite does, thankfully).

She’s now twenty-three, a college graduate who has been let go from her first job because she can’t relate to others. Father John, who runs Grace House, tells her she’s been given an opportunity: an anonymous benefactor will fund postgraduate studies in journalism as long as she writes him letters detailing her progress. She agrees, and decides to address here benefactor as Mr Knightley, for her favourite Jane Austen hero.

Samantha is a damaged character, but as the story progresses she begins to find herself in her studies and her letters to Mr Knightley, and she begins to reach out to others and explore the possibilities of relationships with real people, not just characters in books. It’s a difficult but uplifting journey. I also enjoyed reading about Sam’s journey to faith (which is understated but present, as this is a Christian novel).

Dear Mr. Knightley is a contemporary retelling of another classic romance novel (one of the few Samantha doesn’t reference). Some of you will already have worked out which one. I have read the ‘original’, and in a way this enhanced the story, but it did mean I knew the identity of the mysterious benefactor from early on, and the ending wasn’t the surprise it was when I read the original (in fact, it felt a little contrived).

I enjoyed the writing and characterisation, and would like to see more from this author—ideally an original story next time.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Katherine Reay at her website.

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