Austen in August Review: The One That Got Away

Posted August 23, 2017 by Lory in reviews / 22 Comments

Melissa Pimentel, The One That Got Away (2017)

Since I’ve been trying to read more contemporary fiction, this new release looked like it had some potential, as well as being the perfect tie-in for Austen in August. Described as a modern take on Persuasion, it concerns Ruby Atlas, a successful New York advertising executive, who is taking a trip to England to attend her sister’s wedding. There she will meet her ex-boyfriend of ten years ago, and the book’s alternating past-and-present chapters recall the circumstances of their relationship, their breakup, and their potential future.

In outline it’s a pleasant enough tale of love found and lost and found again, but the resemblance to Persuasion was slim. I personally would not update Anne Elliott to make her a New Yorker or have her work in advertising — too brash and superficial for her quiet, sensitive character. Nor does the transformation of the serious, patient Captain Wentworth into a slacker-bartender-turned-software-whiz make much sense. The secondary characters — Ruby’s wheeler-dealer father who lost his real estate empire in the crash of 2008, her hyperactive sister who insists on being married in a castle — also bear a passing resemblance to their counterparts, but are not portrayed with the biting wit of the original, and Ruby readily forgives them all their foibles. This softening of what is really a very unpleasant family may make for a nicer resolution, but also a blander and more forgettable one.

I don’t want to be too nit-picky about parallels, though; I don’t think an update needs to be slavishly beholden to its original. What if the book is considered on its own, without reference to Persuasion? For me, the disgustingly over-the-top wedding scenario was more irritating than amusing, and Ruby’s horrible sister Piper never got the smack she deserved. I also never came to understand Ruby and Ethan’s chemistry — other than being told repeatedly they had really hot sex, yawn — enough to want them to get back together; there seemed no reason for Ruby not to go with the attractive Brit who started to court her, which might have led her down more interesting paths. The unremarkable, slang-and-swearword-heavy language also did not sit well with me, along with the constant stream of pop-culture references. This is something that often bugs me in contemporary fiction, a lazy way of locating us in time and place.

If you find the excess of American-style weddings hilarious, and can never get enough of tales of young women trying to make it in New York, you might still enjoy The One That Got Away. I really wanted to like it, especially because I requested it for review, and it did sound like a fun idea. But in all honesty I have to say the characters and the style of humor just did not click for me, and in a romantic comedy that’s essential.

What’s your favorite Austen novel or update? Have you read Persuasion, or any spin-offs?

Austen in August Review: The One That Got AwayThe One That Got Away by Melissa Pimentel
Published by St Martin's in 2017
Format: Hardcover from Publisher

A copy was received for review purposes from the publisher. No other compensation was received, and all opinions expressed are my own.

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22 responses to “Austen in August Review: The One That Got Away

  1. Oh man, this sounds like a rough read. Wonderful review though! I loved the comparison to the original story.

    • Maybe the author didn’t mean her to be a parallel character, although some aspects of the situation were the same. Some were also very different!

  2. I love Persuasion and Anne Elliott is my favourite Austen heroine, so I don’t think I would like all the changes that are made in this book either. I’ve never really had much interest in reading Austen spin-offs but some of them do sound fun!

    • I keep trying them even though there are few that work for me. I think Clueless (the movie) is my favorite; it’s so over-the-top that it works somehow.

  3. I think I’d just rather reread Persuasion than waste my time on this one. (Or even watch the excellent film adaptation of it!) sigh. Nobody does romance like Jane did. πŸ™‚

  4. I tend to disprove of retellings. I would judge the book as an unconnected story.

    Too bad that this was disappointing even when you did that.

    • I have no problem with recycling plots, but it has to be done in an original way for me to enjoy the book.

  5. Hmm, this one seems to have missed the mark with the modern update. I love an update when it is true to the spirit of the original and maybe this one would have been better without the Persuasion comparison. I don’t really have a favorite Austen novel – but the novel Austenland is one of my favorite reads ever. πŸ™‚

  6. Yeah, these Austen adaptations are tricky! I agree with Lark above, why not just read the original?

    But I also agree with you that Clueless is a fantastic adaptation of Emma and I would add that Bridget Jones’ Diary is a great riff of Pride and Prejudice.

    • Honestly, I think there are too many Austen spin-offs now — but sometimes I just have to try another one. I also liked Bridget Jones’ Diary.

  7. Good review!

    Perhaps the link to Persuasion should have remained unspoken, since it can only raise certain expectations? It doesn’t sound my cup of tea either. I think that retelling Austen is incredibly difficult to do well, though I too liked Clueless and Bridget Jones’s Diary (most of it anyway).

    I recently read a retelling of Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope, and really she had done the opposite and tried to stick too closely to the original but set it in twenty-first-century Britain. This meant that a lot of the characters’ actions were inexplicable – to me, anyway; nobody would behave like that nowadays.

    • Yes, it’s not so easy to update those situations to the present day. That’s where I thought Clueless was quite clever.

  8. I think the lack of clearer parallels would bother me picking up a retelling. I agree that some liberties are fine, but I’m definitely more impressed when updated characters feel like people the modern day versions of the original characters might have become. I’m not sure if I’d like it on it’s own merits or not, but it doesn’t particularly grab me.

    • As a character, Anne is so constrained by the conventions of her time, I think it is hard to update her. Fanny Price would also be very difficult – I’m not sure anyone has ever even attempted that one!

  9. I just recently re-read Persuasion in anticipation of a spin-off I was curious about: The Widow’s Fire by Paul Butler. I ended up loving it. I’m not one to seek out the spin-offs, but this one was offered to me, and it was a good reason to re-read Persuasion. πŸ™‚

    The One That Got Away doesn’t sound like it’s for me – I think I would find it irritating. And it seems to me you need more of a connection to call yourself a spin-off. I imagine there are quite a few books out there with the ‘love found, lost, then found again’ premise.

    • Right, I also felt that is one of the most common plots in the world,

      There was an attempt at making Ruby’s father and sister somewhat like Anne’s (real estate wheeler dealer loses everything in the crash, has to retire to Florida)…but the crazy extravagant marriage of the sister obscured that side of the plot, and besides everyone was too good at heart, unlike the awful Elliots.

      I will check out The Widow’s Fire though, if you liked it. I do keep trying!