Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl

Keeping The Castle

As a fan of Jane Austen’s novels, I have an interest in Austen-esque fiction.  Some of it is done well, and some of it… not so much.  It’s not a matter of language choice or having lots of tea parties; rather, it encompasses a particular style of social interaction and an adherence to a specific set of manners.  Language and such things are just window dressing.  Keeping the Castle professes to be a young adult novel in Jane Austen’s style, but it fails through trying too hard.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

“Seventeen-year-old Althea is the sole support of her entire family, and she must marry well. But there are few wealthy suitors–or suitors of any kind–in their small Yorkshire town of Lesser Hoo. Then, the young and attractive (and very rich) Lord Boring arrives, and Althea sets her plans in motion. There’s only one problem; his friend and business manager Mr. Fredericks keeps getting in the way. And, as it turns out, Fredericks has his own set of plans . . .”

Plot-wise, the novel is a mix of Pride and Prejudice and Emma.  On the one hand, Althea is looking for a husband to help secure her family’s future, and on the other hand, she’s trying to be a matchmaker to others in her neighborhood.  There is a certain charm to the story—Althea is smart and witty, and the things that she says and does will probably get a wry chuckle or two from the reader.

There are, however, two main problems with this novel.  The first one is that Althea and the person with whom she eventually falls in love don’t go through any character changes that would make their emotions believable.  While Althea does show a bit of softening towards this man, his behavior remains overly blunt and even borders on being rude.  He’s not unlikable, but the fact is that he’s painted as undesirable, and when he fails to change, it becomes hard to understand why Althea loves him.

The other problem is that of the inclusion of so many elements reminiscent of Austen’s novels.  Kindl has obviously read Austen’s books, because she has a reasonable grasp of the structure of her novels and their flow and rhythm.  Unfortunately, the author applies these elements with an overly heavy hand.  While I can understand wanting to draw in young adult readers who many not have any experience with 19th century literature, there is no need to dumb down what they’ll be reading.  Classic novels have been repackaged for teen consumption for a few years, so I don’t see the need to simplify things just because the target audience is teenagers.

Part and parcel of this heavy-handedness is the violations of the “show, don’t tell” rule.  It’s as if the author feels—again, probably due to her targeted audience—that she must explain concepts and motivations that would be perfectly understandable in context.  It felt like being hit over the head with an annotated Pride and Prejudice.

I’m all for getting teenagers to appreciate the subtle wit and humor of Jane Austen’s classic novels, but writing the novel as if your audience doesn’t have the capacity to “get it” for themselves isn’t the way to do it.  Keeping the Castle contains the seeds of a charming little tale, but the execution isn’t up to the task of conveying that charm.

This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on January 2, 2013.

Series: n/a
ISBN: 9780670014385
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Page Count: 272
Publication Date: June 14, 2012
Acquired: Borrowed from the Yolo County Public Library, Davis branch
Author Website
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