By Katherine J. Chen
Not My Edition:
Library Paperback, 436 pages
2018, Random House
ISBN: 9780525631811 (Large print)
Told from the perspective of the oft-overlooked Mary, this novel covers the events before, during and after Pride and Prejudice.
That’s a pretty simple blurb, but it covers the basics without giving away any of the unique details of the story. (Perhaps I should aim for one sentence descriptions in the future!)
I picked this up because Mum insisted I borrow her (large print) library copy; she loved it and she remembered that I’m thirsty for some P&P fiction that does justice to Mary’s character!
This didn’t disappoint.
Finally! Someone who writes Mary better than even Austen herself! –Gasp!- Yes, I did just say that. I think writing 5 Bennet sisters was ambitious. I understand it lends to the severity of their situation, because there are 5 daughters that need marrying off and dowries and there aren’t any sons to inherit the family property and all of this is causing everyone a lot of stress. But as a result, Mary and Kitty fall to the wayside in the overall story. (P.S. Hit me up if you find some good Kitty-centric fiction too, because I’m also down for that!) Mary is painted as dull, annoying and too smart for her own good (pretentious, if you will) and Kitty is just a carbon copy of Lydia except without the dramatic plotline.
Here, we get the story from Mary’s perspective – and much of it is heartbreaking. This story paints the Bennet family in a different light, but one that still matches up with the overall feel of the original story and characterizations. The parts that follow the story covered in P&P remain pretty true to the original – or if it varied, I didn’t pick up on it.
Mary doesn’t grow up trying to be pretentious or annoying; her hobbies are just different from those of her sisters and no one in her family understands her. Even the typically caring Jane and Lizzy come across as a bit bitchy, We get more insight into Mary’s feelings for Mr. Collins and he’s actually much less detestable in this book – well, until he goes off and marries Charlotte Lucas. The real highlight of the story is Mary’s relationship with Darcy and his cousin Fitzwilliam though. I don’t want to spoil the plot, so we’ll leave it at that.
There are a lot of parallels between this and P&P, including a Darcy lecture on why someone isn’t suited for someone else. He even embodies the spirit of Madame DeBourgh when he questions a character and tries to get them to admit whether they have feelings for someone else when he believes they shouldn’t.
Darcy, despite still being a bit of a prat, is more likable in this tale too. I don’t dislike him by any means – I, like basically every lady, think he’s pretty hunky, but I also find him to be stuffy and awkward. I don’t really consider him a knight in shining armor and if I had an Austen crush it would probably be on Mr. Knightley (from Emma) or even Bingley because he’s just a sweet goober (albeit easy to manipulate.) Darcy is a lot more personable in this book and even has an unexpected creative side.
Lizzy, on the other hand, is shown in quite a different light. I found myself disliking her by the end of the book, yet her actions didn’t feel out of character from the original source. I think the latter half of this book is certainly a plausible sequel to P&P – one that doesn’t paint everything as roses and paradise between Lizzy and Darcy. (Yeah, not sure where I came up with the phrase “roses and paradise,” but I’m leaving it in.)
The ending was bittersweet, but I couldn’t imagine it happening any other way. It killed me a little inside and I loved it. This is a wonderful adaptation, especially for a debut novel! I’d certainly read any other P&P or Austen-inspired tales Chen decides to write! I feel like when I go to read P&P in the future (this month, even!) my mental sketches of Darcy and Mary are going to be enhanced by this book. I definitely need to get my own (not large print) copy to add to my Austen collection!
I’ll leave you with this quote:
“To love him was to love the better part of myself, and this was as natural as breathing.”
I highly recommend this if:
+You want justice for Mary too
+You enjoy Pride and Prejudice spin-offs, sequels and reimaginings
+You’re looking for a Regency-era love story that will leave you both happy and sad