When I read that Dear Mr Knightley by Katherine Reay (coming out tomorrow November 5th!) was available on Booksneeze, I absolutely had to read it. Instantly. Advertised as a modern Daddy-Long-Legs by JeanWebster, with a heroine who hides her true self behind Jane Austen quotes, what wasn’t to like? Almost every girl loves Jane Austen, while Daddy-Long-Legs is just about my favourite novel ever. I reread it, following the development and adventures of the heroine Judy Abbott, every few years, along with Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle.
However, my high hopes initially disappointed me. The setting: Chicago, around a young people’s residential unit for children who had missed out on fostering, was recognizable as Judy Abbott’s orphanage but the context was too modern for me. Sam, our heroine, had far more issues than Judy and I didn’t identify with her. Still, I ploughed on and found myself becoming absorbed by the story. The plot and equivalent characters with Daddy-Long-Legs were fairly easily identifiable and I enjoyed seeing how Sam, with determination, persistence and loving encouragement, began to turn her life around. Her predilection for speaking in romantic literary quotations, chiefly from Austen and Bronte, was quirky and fun. I found myself trying to place the quotes before the characters were able to do so.
As the story progressed, I became anxious. Sam’s letters to her anonymous benefactor (Mr. Knightley) parallel Judy’s letters to her college sponsor. As I read, I wondered if Sam’s story would have the same equivalent charming, happy ending. Judy falls in love with a wealthy, successful man before she discovers he is, in fact, her anonymous benefactor. Sam develops a close relationship with Alex, a highly successful writer. Yet she also has a steady boyfriend with a good job and lavish lifestyle. Both relationships have ups and downs which she shares with ‘Mr Knightley’. More importantly, Sam works through her issues, overcoming past hurts and damaging experiences. The story might draw on an older novel, but would this modern retelling end in a similar fashion?
Well, I won’t spoil it. Suffice to say that the ending is suitably happy. Sam achieves success: in her career, in her relationships, and in becoming a whole, healed, happy person. And, as Jane Eyre would say: “Reader, I married him.” What more could the reader of romantic fiction want?
This was a free copy from Booksneeze, but I would have bought it.