Book Review

Book Review: Mary B.

Mary B.
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

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Mary B.”

  1. I’ve always thought poor Mary was overlooked. She doesn’t seem to be a bad person, yet her sisters kind of treat her like she is. Like she’s so contemptible she’s just beneath anyone’s notice. When really she seems bookish and introverted. Maybe she’s pretentious–but so is Lizzie. Really, I think all she needs is to go out more. Maybe meet people who are also bookish so she realizes she’s not necessarily the smartest thing around. Then she can be bookish without being snotty about it because she’ll have like-minded people to talk with.

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    1. Exactly! She’s definitely an introverted nerd by today’s standards and it’s sad that not one of her 4 sisters even tries to connect with her. Lizzy is deff pretentious! Lol. I always disliked that Mary serves as just another disappointment and it’s like only Jane and Lizzy are worth courting/knowing. This book gives Mary a lot of depth and also hammers home how dismissive her sisters are. I think if Mary were around today I could be friends with her :]

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