Persuade Me by Juliet Archer is a modernized treatment of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. When I first received the book I was reminded of the Three Weissmanns of Westport, a modern take of Sense and Sensibility by Cathleen Schine. Since I wasn’t as impressed with the Weissmanns as the New York Times bestselling book crowd seemed to be, I picked up Persuade Me with a sense of “Here we go again.”
Persuade Me is the story of Anna Elliot and Rick Wentworth, celebrity scientist and best selling author of Sex in the Sea, an entertaining yet informative non-fiction book about sea animal propagation. Rick’s movie star good looks propel him to instant stardom. And thus we meet him on a book tour in England, away from Australia, his adopted country. Rick’s return to England is bittersweet. While he’s found fame, he’s never found a woman to replace his lost love, Anna, and memories keep washing over him as he visits familiar haunts. Even though the memories are sweet, Rick remains bitter, for his failed romance with Anna has spoiled him for any other woman.
Enter Anna Elliot. Softly pretty, single, and with a serious job, that of a Russian literature scholar. Her life, too, has been scarred by a love once treasured, now lost. Memories of Rick’s kisses and arms are as fresh to Anna today as they were ten years ago, before she foolishly broke up with him.
Insofar as the plot goes, Jane Austen fans know the drill. Rick meets Anna on his book tour, and circumstances serve to throw the two together physically while emotionally keeping them apart. Anna’s sisters Lisa and Mona resemble their Jane Austen counterparts, except that shrewish Mona is also a lush, a touch I loved. Sir Walter Elliot is a vain popinjay who instantly re-invites his slimy, two-timing nephew William back to the bosom of his family because he is (and here I am paraphrasing Sir Walter) a “mimick-me”. Except for William’s chin having an unfortunate tendency towards receding, Sir Walter regards the man as the perfect consort for his lovely eldest daughter Lisa.
I won’t go into more details about the plot, since that will spoil the book for you, except to make a few observations. Juliet Archer takes the reader into both Anna’s and Rick’s minds. Now, I am one of those readers who thrills in reading books in which the author does this. I am always dying to know what other characters are thinking, and Juliet has given me that gift. This works both for and against the plot. Let me explain. When Rick and Anna get together, you can cut the sexual tension with a knife. Knowing what both were thinking and why they were unable to act upon their desires kept me turning the pages.
BUT! By providing us with Rick’s thoughts, the mystery of the book is gone. Jane Austen brilliantly kept her readers in suspense about Captain Wentworth’s thoughts and how they informed his actions. We knew what emotional torture poor Anne Elliot was going through and we had to wait (with bated breaths) for the last few chapters to learn how very much Captain Wentworth had wanted her back all along. For a variety of reasons, there is no such mystery in Persuade Me. Nevertheless, Juliet Archers has given us the thrill of following Rick’s mind as he encounters Anna in Lyme and Bath and sees her with William Elliot. It helps that the author is British, and therefore can capture the nuances of speech and customs of her country perfectly. One feels that this Anna and William could have been the great great grandchildren of Jane Austen’s counterparts.
The second reason that the suspense of this tale is missing is that it is based on a beloved book that 99% of Janeites have read. We already know the outcome. Yet I found the book a satisfying read. Even though I regard its original model as nearly perfect, I give Persuade Me four out of five Regency tea cups.
Persuade Me is the second book in Juliet Archer’s Darcy & Friends series, published by Choc Lit at http://www.choc-lit.com