When letters tell the story: Review of Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

A new  year upon us means a new year of reading and books, and I’m thrilled to start 2014 with a review of a book I wasn’t sure I would like when I started it.

knightleyKatherine Reay’s debut novel Dear Mr. Knightley drew me in with its Jane Austen reference in the title. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my review through the Booksneeze program.) What I didn’t realize is that it’s written entirely in letters. The main character, Samantha Moore, is an orphan looking for meaning in her life. Thanks to a mysterious benefecator, she applies to the presitgious Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and is accepted. The condition of her endowment is that she write letters regularly to the benefactor, who has taken the name Mr. Knightley.

So, the story unfolds in Sam’s letters to this man, which end up reading somewhat like a journal because Mr. Knightley seldom writes back. It’s not meant to be a correspondance. And, admittedly, it takes some getting used to. But as an introvert and a writer, I came to appreciate the novel’s style. And the story is compelling as we wonder if she’ll make it through the rigorous journalism program and if she’ll ever discover who Mr. Knightley is.

It’s fun and different, and because Sam has such a love for classic literature, I found myself making a mental list of books I want to read or re-read. The characters in these classic novels are her friends and part of her identity, and I felt like I knew them better because of her attachment to them.

So, reading this book has given me a dozen others to add to my reading list for the new year.

If you’re a fan of Austen, I think you’ll like this one, especially if you’re familiar enough with her works to get all the references to characters and quotes from her books.

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