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“Mr Malcolm’s List” by Suzanne Allain

(Jane Austen and her sister, Cassandra, famously wrote letters to each other whenever they were apart. These blog posts imagine what such letters would have looked like if the sisters had shared reviews of books they were reading. The twist? These are books published in our time, inspired by the works of Jane Austen herself.)

Dearest Jane

I am dismayed to hear of your delayed homecoming. Yet I comfort myself in having the opportunity to write one more time and being assured of your receiving my post.

The rain has been a terrible nuisance, but we have managed an outing, nevertheless. On Thursday, the clouds were unable to muster their usual gloom, but the weather remained cool —perfect for driving in an open chaise all the way to Manydown Park, a full six miles!

We stayed for tea with the Bigg sisters. While the gentlemen took themselves to the stables to admire a new horse Mr Bigg-Wither had acquired, the ladies were able to catch up on all the gossip we had missed these past weeks. I shall divulge nothing at the moment, but leave such details for your ears alone upon your return.

I confess I can never visit Manydown without thinking of their wonderful balls and, of course, your Tom. How the two of you danced! But perhaps such aptitude is insufficient for a good match.

It puts me in mind of a book I read some time ago. I think, perhaps, you have read it, too. Do you recall “Mr Malcolm’s list”, by Mrs Suzanne Allain? It is the one with the gentleman who has a list of unrealistic qualities he expects to find in his ideal bride.

I remember enjoying the novel very much. It was such a witty book that I fairly flew through the pages! One does not know whether to cheer for Mr Malcolm or wish his downfall, for he appears insufferably arrogant. It seems someone needs to set him straight. Fortunately, the heroine is up to the task.

And, of course, he is not the only one who could learn a lesson or two. What I liked best is the fact that the characters stay true to their natures, and yet grow as individuals in love and wisdom. Sometimes, I feel, a story may make unrealistic changes within its players for the sake of the plot or a tidy ending. But Mrs Allain’s characters remain flawed. One can picture many a merry argument continuing after the pages are done.

As for Mr Malcolm, I was never sure of him until the end, which kept my curiosity piqued. Having a writer for a sister has made me a far more demanding reader. So it is always a pleasure when a book can keep me guessing.

Now, I hope that you have merely paused your packing to read my letter, and that you will resume forthwith. You must surely be leaving within a day or two, and I can scarcely wait to wrap you in a sisterly embrace.

I am counting the hours.


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