Book Club: Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

This month's book club discussion is going to be about Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay.  Its not exactly a Jane Austen book adaptation but it does take some elements from her works.  What's interesting about this novel is that its written as a series of letters (an epistolary) by the female protagonist, Samantha, addressed to her grad school benefactor. The letters are one way, Mr. Knightley never writes back to her and in effect it reads more like her journal rather than a conversation.  The book has had great reviews and some not so great ones.  This becomes a perfect jumping point for discussion.  What makes it a great book and what makes it a not so good one. Which elements work and why some don't.  

Book Summary:
Dear Mr. Knightley is a contemporary epistolary novel with a delightful dash of Jane Austen.

Samantha Moore survived years of darkness in the foster care system by hiding behind her favorite characters in literature, even adopting their very words. Her fictional friends give her an identity, albeit a borrowed one. But most importantly, they protect her from revealing her true self and encountering more pain.

After college, Samantha receives an extraordinary opportunity. The anonymous “Mr. Knightley” offers her a full scholarship to earn her graduate degree at the prestigious Medill School of Journalism. The sole condition is that Sam write to Mr. Knightley regularly to keep him apprised of her progress.

As Sam’s true identity begins to reveal itself through her letters, her heart begins to soften to those around her—a damaged teenager and fellow inhabitant of Grace House, her classmates at Medill, and, most powerfully, successful novelist Alex Powell. But just as Sam finally begins to trust, she learns that Alex has secrets of his own—secrets that, for better or for worse, make it impossible for Sam to hide behind either her characters or her letters.

Reviews in a Series of Letters:

Dear Mr. Knightley, 

I have the strangest feeling of being invited to a satirical theater production based on a popular literature then going out of the theater doors lost in confusion as what to feel exactly. Samantha Moore writes the letters to an anonymous Mr Knightley which reads as a diary-slash-short-story which reminds me a bit of Austen, if you ask me. She loves to use letters to present plot twists. 

So I am confused. It's like the 'Sam of the letters' and the 'Sam when she opens her mouth to speak' sounded like two different people until halfway across the book when the two almost merge. She's not an easy character to warm up in the beginning. She was curt, stubborn, jaded, a bit callous and very reserved but she's a bookworm. I believe book lovers tend to have roomier sensibilities with a sense of idealism so somehow I would have expected her to roll her eyes on things like fictional love, flirting and fairy tales. 

And then, there's the quotes. The book is chock full of them. Sam often quotes from books whenever she's desperate to withdraw behind these fictional characters, aka self-protection. Sometimes the quote hits the mark, sometimes it misses and leaves me confounded. Funnily enough, it works well when Alex Powell is around in that it becomes a playful banter. Hanna is quite a revelation in her insights and I love the Muirs best. 

Around page seventy onward, things started to pick up, Sam is more relatable and more natural with her quirks, and the writing flowed naturally till the end. Literature references aside, it is a piercing coming of age novel about a young woman survivor who remained strong, though embittered by her past, to try and take on the world, to let go and embrace being humane. Sam's journey to finding herself is both a rough going and a slow awakening. If you plan to read this, Mr. Knightley, I suggest for more patience.

There's a sense that dragging the books in merely cements the idea or excuse of channeling parallelism between fiction and reality . It is as if the author wrote the story putting in popular characters and their dialogues in place of her truthful thoughts, just like Sam. Lady Catherine, methinks, summed it all up for me, something she said about a patched up marriage only achieved at the expense of.... 

Anyway, I will let Lady Catherine drone on and this is where I leave you, Mr. Knightley. Exit, pursued by a bear.

Book rating: ♨♨♨ (3 cups )

Dear Daddy Long Legs,
I love college and I love you for sending me - oh wait, wrong novel. I should be writing about Dear Mr. Knightley instead. Sorry, Daddy Long Legs. 
I wasn't really interested in reading modern adaptations of my favorite classic novels, but thanks to our blog, I started to do so. My first book was modern adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (review here) and enjoyed it very much. And so for this cold month of January, we're reviewing another modern adaptation which is Katherine Reay's debut novel - Dear Mr. Knightley. It's a contemporary epistolary novel inspired by the classic  Daddy Long Legs (which is one of my favorites!)
Samantha Moore had a rough childhood. After graduating college, she seeks to prove herself to the real world. However, her plans go awry until she's offered a scholarship for a graduate program at the Medill School of Journalism by someone who is only known to her as Mr. George Knightley.
We get to know Samantha and her journey through a series of letter to her mysterious benefactor. Samantha is a person who has fictional characters as friends and has a difficulty in getting along with people. It was quite difficult to like her at first, but later on as she opened up to people and went out of her shell, I started to like her too. There were things about her that I could relate to. Her quoting habit was one and I did find it amusing sometimes. I do think that quoting game was brilliant and I want an Alex Powell of my own so I could play that game with him. (Hi crush, I'm referring to you :P)
Anyway, the story started out slow but things got better after awhile. It got to a point that I wouldn't put the book down and my mother kept trying to get me out of bed but she was unsuccessful. I also loved the other characters - Alex, Kyle, Father John and especially the Muirs. Lovely (fictional) people. My favorite scenes were those of Alex and Sam and I kept rooting for them till the end. 
Overall, Dear Mr. Knightley was an engaging story - fun, witty, angsty with a dash of mystery and romance. Will definitely reread this sometime. 
PS: I loved Samantha's reading list at the end and book lovers should check it out! 


Rating:♨♨♨♨ (4 cups).