I am second to none in my admiration for Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and have read a number of retellings and sequels of that book written by modern authors. I particularly recommend Longbourn by Jo Baker, Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James, Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld and Acting Up by Melissa Nathan although there are many, many more.
The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow tells the story of Mary who is the middle of the five Bennet sisters. It retells the events of Jane Austen’s book and then follows Mary through her life from that point. The author takes the character which we think we know from Pride and Prejudice and explains her to the reader. We learn why she is so adamant to play the piano and sing that she embarrasses her family and how she craves being noticed but eventually resigns herself to spinsterhood. After her sisters are married Mary finds herself without a home when her father dies and Mr Collins inherits the family property. As Jane Austen herself experienced, unmarried women in this class, at this time are passed around from one family member to another and never quite welcome anywhere. Mary finds herself left out in the homes of her sisters and uncomfortable in her family home with Mr Collins and his family. She dresses plainly and tries not to be noticed but is eventually rescued from this unsatisfying life by Mr and Mrs Gardner (her aunt and uncle) and begins to find a new life for herself.
This is a long book and it is very evenly paced with little change in the narrative style. This did mean that in the middle of it I really wanted the book to be shorter although I enjoyed the story of Mary and the way that the author showed the uncertainties and inequalities of society at the time. I persevered with it but I do feel that it should have been a shorter book although I can’t say what should have been omitted. I enjoyed the way that the author retold the story through Mary’s eyes and how this meant that we saw the characters differently – the development of Mr Collins from a comic figure into a sadly misunderstood man was well done.
This was a book well worth reading and a very enjoyable retelling of a classic story.
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