Thursday, February 25, 2016

"Dear Mr. Knightley" by Katherine Reay

My goodness, I like each Katherine Reay book I read better than the last.  I liked The Bronte Plot quite a lot.  I liked Lizzy & Jane even better.  But I like Dear Mr. Knightley the best of all.

I think part of this has to do with the heroines' chosen professions.  Lucy buys and sells books and antiques, and while I do buy a lot of books, I don't sell them, and I'm not into antiques.  Lizzy is a chef, and while I love to cook, I don't do it for a living.  But Samantha Moore in Dear Mr. Knightley is a writer, and I'm a writer.  Although she does the journalism thing and I do the fiction thing, I related to that aspect of her character a lot.

However, I also liked this book better because it's inspired by Daddy-Long-Legs, and I enjoyed seeing how Reay updated the idea.  Also, it's somewhat more serious -- Sam is a former foster child struggling to adjust to adult life away from the safety of the group home she lived in through her older teen years and college.  Although a nameless benefactor gives her the money to go to grad school and a nice apartment, she does not have an easy time.  She's socially awkward, has a hard time coping with the rigors of grad school, and finds it hard to distinguish between people who are genuinely nice and kind versus those who are pretending to be nice because they want something.  

This is a more interior, personal book than Reay's two other novels, more about a person's struggles within themselves and less about their interpersonal problems, if that makes sense.  Not saying I don't like books about interpersonal problems, cuz I do, but I liked this even better.

A couple of my blogging friends have said they think it was unrealistic that a guarded person like Sam would have written such intimate thoughts to an unknown person, but I think Reay did a good job setting that up from the beginning with Sam writing passages like, "Honesty is easier when you have no face and no real name.  And honesty, for me, is very easy on paper" (p. 5).  Later, Sam writes, "And now I trust our one-sided, soul-purging relationship.  I depend on it" (p. 130).  Like any epistolary novel, you have to suspend some disbelief because most of us don't write letters that detail full conversations, but my credulity was never stretched beyond comfort.


Favorite Lines:

He showed me the real Kyle, and I crushed him.  Is this the adult I've become? (p. 26).

I've heard all sorts of things about a kiss (melting, fireworks, music), but no one ever told me it's a conversation:  asking, accepting, deciding, inviting, giving... Questions posed and answered (p. 93).

"Talking through stuff before I get it into the manuscript depletes the tension and magic.  I have to keep it compressed or it flops" (p. 218)


If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13.  Sam has a boyfriend who pressures her to spend the night, and they make out several times, though those are not described any more in-depth than the passage above.

11 comments:

  1. Awww, I'm glad you enjoyed it so much! I only read it the one time, but did think it very endearing and sweet. I'm #1 in the holds list for The Bronte Plot and can hardly wait to get my hands on it!

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    1. Carissa, I think The Bronte Plot is going to be more a YOU book than this one, for some reason -- just feels to me like, "Yes, Carissa would dig this." I hope you do!

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  2. I'm so glad you like this book! I actually recently read Daddy Long Legs and it was this book that forced me to finally read it. I liked Dear Mr. Knightly so much I couldn't wait to read Daddy Long Legs, and I ended up really loving it.

    This is the only Katherine Reay book I have read. I have Lizzy and Jane on my shelf right now from the library and from what you said at the beginning, I can't wait to read it.
    I did read your review on Lizzy and Jane, and the small not on why you rated it PG - 13. Do you remember what chapter that was in, so that I can watch out for it and skip over that part.

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    1. Ekaterina, I just read Daddy-Long-Legs for the first time about a year ago, and it was people gushing over it while reviewing this book that finally convinced me to read it. So we both owe that pleasure to this book!

      I do not remember what chapter that was in, but I assure you it was very, very minor. Jane says something about how cancer doesn't just make your hair fall out, it makes your skin itchy and your mouth taste funny, and as for sex, forget it -- you turn into a dried-up old prune. That is all there is to it. I feel like Dear Mr. Knightley was more content-y, with that dreadful boyfriend and his leering friends.

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  3. Loved this review. I haven't read The Bronte Plot (yet) but I liked Dear Mr. Knightley so much better than Lizzy & Jane. I re-read it just a couple of weeks ago and it was still as good as ever. <3 The nice thing about the writing aspect of the plot is that, even though Sam is a into journalism, Alex writes fiction so you get snippets of that. (In fact, isn't that last quote about writing from Alex?)

    Certain bits of it always make me tear up, but usually because I'm happy (how Kyle's story turned out, anyone?). Such an amazing book.

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    1. Eva, that's true -- Alex brings the fiction in so nicely. Yes, the last quote is from him :-) It made me think of Hemingway, who had similar sentiments.

      Kyle's story was wonderful -- I definitely teared up over him several times.

      I think I may end up buying this one, but I feel no need to own L&J or TBP.

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  4. YAY!!! I wanted so badly for you to like this one, since I knew you loved Daddy Long Legs. This just makes me happy indeed!! :D

    I agree, the reader does have to suspend a certain amount of belief for epistolary novels, but Reay did such a great job with this that it worked fabulously. And I think one thing that I especially liked was how much time we spend in Sam's head. She's so brutally honest. And combine that with Reay's lovely writing and we get this wonderful story.

    Still grinning over this review! :)

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    1. Kara, I agree -- the time spent in Sam's head was what made it so great. She was such a neat blend of strong and fragile, intelligent and naive. I almost bought a copy at the book store on Monday, but they only had one and it had a bent cover and... I want to be the one putting the bend in the cover, hee.

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    2. I understand that feeling completely! I reach to the back of the stack of books quite often. A bent cover or anything else just won't do. Like you said, if it's going to happen to the book, I want to be the one that caused it. :)

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  5. That's great to hear that you liked it so much! It's funny to see that you read them just in the opposite order they were published!

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    1. Birdie, I know -- isn't that silly of me? Hee.

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