‘Pride & Prejudice’ Variations – Minireviews

I have confessed before that when my life gets  busy and stressed, my reading gets suuuuper fluffy, and, in most cases, takes on the form of terrible Pride & Prejudice variations.  I hate to admit it, but I find them endlessly entertaining, mostly because I love the concept of one thing being different, and suddenly the whole story changes.  While many of them are, admittedly, dreadful, some are still enjoyable.  I’m embarrassed to tell you all how many I’ve read lately, but here are a few, just as a sample…

The Houseguest by Elizabeth Adams

//published 2013//

This one was pretty low key, but still pleasant.  In this story, Darcy and Elizabeth meet at Netherfield per canon, but, after the assembly where Elizabeth becomes quite prejudiced against Darcy, Georgiana comes from London to stay at Netherfield as well, and she and Elizabeth become friends.  A few months later, when Darcy is away visiting a relative (and Jane is staying in London with the Gardiners), Georgiana invites Elizabeth to come and stay with her.  However, Darcy returns home early, so he and Elizabeth have an opportunity to know each other better.

Things I liked:  This was just a nice variation.  There weren’t all these crazy evil people trying to drive Darcy and Elizabeth apart, there weren’t loads of steamy sex scenes, and there was no violence or rape.  In short, it was a variation that I don’t think would have made Jane Austen twitch too much.  I liked the slowly developing friendship between Darcy and Elizabeth, and I liked how not all of Darcy’s relatives immediately disliked Elizabeth.  It was also nice to have Georgiana be nice, because some variations like to turn her into a selfish shrew.

Things I didn’t like:  There was this kind of random love triangle that was never a really serious love triangle, and I don’t even understand why authors bother with it in these stories because DUH the whole point is Darcy and Elizabeth end up together, so it doesn’t really seem fair to the other fellow, does it??  Also, this book had a ridiculously long epilogue that was so involved it felt like Adams should have just written a sequel.  Instead, we just got like a couple of paragraphs throwing everyone’s lives into disarray.

Conclusion:  3/5 for a pleasant story.  Nice for relaxing but not terribly thrilling.

Fate & Consequences by Linda Wells

//published 2009//

In this version, Darcy arrives at Ramsgate too late to stop Georgiana.  He pursues her (and Wickham, obviously), and manages to catch up with them at an inn in a small town called Meryton.  While Georgiana hasn’t actually stayed a night with Wickham, she is still ruined when word gets out of her attempted elopement.  While in Meryton, Darcy and his sister happened to run into Elizabeth, and a series of events leads to Elizabeth and Georgiana beginning a correspondence.  Darcy and Elizabeth also begin a clandestine correspondence, and fall in love through their letters.  Because Georgiana is ruined when Darcy and Elizabeth meet, Darcy has already been humbled in many ways, and is much more open to falling in love with Elizabeth in consequence.

Things I liked:  Again, I like stories where people are friends and then fall in love, and this version did that well.  Elizabeth and Darcy are just so good for each other in this story, always supporting and helping each other through difficult times.  There was a good secondary story about Elizabeth having an aunt that she never knew about because her aunt was also ruined as a young woman and sent off to Scotland in disgrace.  I also liked the way that Mr. Bennet and his wife began to work through their relationship and ended as a stronger couple in the end.

Things I didn’t like:  Mostly the ridiculous drama, like seriously Wickham is a bit over-the-top, and Lady Catherine definitely is.  Also, one of Elizabeth’s letters go missing and even though she and Darcy hardly know each other at this point, Darcy goes into this deep, dark depression and refuses to eat or sleep for days and it all just seemed a *tad* melodramatic for the situation.  Also, definitely too much sex.  Just please.  No.

Conclusion:  Still, 3/5 because there were a lot of good characterizations, and when Wells wasn’t going crazy with emotional turmoil, the story moved along well.

1932 by Karen M. Cox

//published 2010//

I really love versions where the actual setting is different.  In some ways, I think that illustrates how universal this love story really has become.  Here, Cox decided to set the story during the Great Depression.  Elizabeth’s family has lost most of their money and has to move to the small town where her mother grew up.  The Darcys of course were much better planners and have suffered minimal financial distress, and Darcy is one of the largest landowners around.

Things I liked:  I loved the concept and the setting, and I liked that Darcy and Elizabeth got married towards the middle of the story (in this version, it would be sort of the equivalent of Elizabeth accepting Darcy during the Hunsford proposal), and then grew towards love from there.  I also liked that Georgiana was likable and kind.

Things I didn’t like:  Overall, this story just felt rushed, like the author had this great idea and felt like she had to publish it before someone else beat her to the punch.  Consequently, the story felt choppy in bits.  The love story between Georgiana and the sheriff could have been much more interesting.  Darcy’s refusal to tell Elizabeth the truth of Georgiana’s past, even after Darcy and Elizabeth married, felt very unnatural, so I didn’t really buy their entire disagreement which was central the story – it seemed like Darcy would have told Elizabeth at least the basic gist.  Later, Darcy and Elizabeth have an argument and it felt like that dragged way too long – Elizabeth leaves her husband and returns home for weeks?!  

Conclusion:  3/5.  I wanted to like this story more than I did.  The author has written at least one more version with a unique setting, so I’ll probably give that one a try as well.

December Minireviews – Part I

So I find that I not-infrequently read books that I just feel rather “meh” about and they don’t seem worth writing an entire post about.  However, since I also use this blog as a sort of book-review diary, I like to at least say something.  So, inspired by the way that Stephanie reviews the unreviewed every month, I think that some months (or maybe all of them!) will get a post with minireviews of all those books that just didn’t get more than a few paragraphs of feelings from me.

Quite a few this month, so here is Part I – Part II should be revealed at the end of the month…

William Tell Told Again by P.G. Wodehouse

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//published 1904//

When I started this book I just assumed that it was going to be another of Wodehouse’s school stories.  My goal of reading all of Wodehouse’s books in chronological order means that I’ve been wading through a lot of school misadventures and cricket.  However, William Tell is actually a story about…  William Tell!

Now, I must be completely honest – I really don’t know anything about the real story of William Tell.  But Wodehouse’s version was quite entertaining, with plenty of little sarcastic quips and fun characters.  He really made the whole story come to life, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It’s a very short, fast read as well.

I read it as a free Kindle book, and didn’t realize until the end that the original book had multiple illustrations throughout, and, more importantly, each illustration was accompanied by a short poem that actually added to the story!  The poems are available to read in the Kindle edition (although not the illustrations), but are at the very end of the book.  Apparently, I ought to have been flipping back to them throughout.

Fury and the White Mare by Albert G. Miller

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//published 1962//

This is the final book in the Fury trilogy, and followed the same basic pattern as the first two books.  There’s a new neighbor who wants to do bad things (in this case, steal timber), Fury does many clever and intelligent things, and Joey learns more about being unselfish and independent.

The only thing that annoyed me about this book was Joey’s attitude towards the white mare.  Basically, Fury yearns for a mate, and he wants the mare, jumping his corral to go to her.  Joey’s adopted dad, Jim, wants to round up the mare and bring her to the ranch for Fury, because Fury is very upset without her.  But Joey is basically jealous of the mare and doesn’t want her at the ranch.  That’s all fine as far as it goes, but they try to find another companion for Fury and eventually they find a dog that Fury really likes and who helps calm him down…  so why isn’t Joey jealous of the dog??  He makes some halfhearted explanations, but none of them really make sense to me.  It just seems like Joey either should be jealous of everything else that Fury likes, or nothing else.

But on the whole, this was a perfectly fine read and a nice addition to the series.

To Refine Like Silver by Jeanna Ellsworth

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//published 2014//

This was a moderately interesting variation of Pride and Prejudice where Darcy and Elizabeth meet in Derbyshire before the events of the original story.  There, Elizabeth befriends Georgiana, who is recovering from her harrowing experience at Ramsgate.  Darcy is captivated by this kind and intelligent young woman, and things go from there.  This is definitely a story that is heavy on Christian themes, and a lot of the story is comprised of conversations about deep and serious topics rather than anything actually happening.

I read another variation by this author a while back – Mr. Darcy’s Promise – which was also alright. However, Ellsworth definitely needs to find someone else to do her cover art, because they are both just simply dreadful.

If you’re interested, I’ve reviewed this book more fully on my “secret” book blog where I post reviews only of P&P variations, because I can’t stop reading them even though they’re terrible…

Lad of Sunnybank by Albert Payson Terhune

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//published 1929//

Earlier this year I reviewed another book by Terhune, The Way of a Dog.  At the time I gave a bit of background for Terhune, who raised collies at his New Jersey home (Sunnybank) and wrote about the prolifically in the 1920’s and 30’s.  Lad is one of Terhune’s great heroes, and he has several books and numerous short stories about him, of which Lad of Sunnybank is one.  This volume is a collection of vignettes starring this intelligent and faithful companion.

While most of the stories are good (True??  Maybe??  Some of them??), Terhune does have a habit of veering off onto minirants about personal peeves.  It’s not bad if you’re just reading one of his shorts, but if you’re blazing through the whole book, have 2-3 pages per chapter devoted to Terhune’s grumbling sometimes gets rather old.  And it’s not even that I disagree with him – it’s just not really part of the story.  For instance, in one chapter, Lad saves a child from being struck by a car.  Then Terhune goes on for three pages about the dangers of motor vehicles –

A heedless high-school boy – a feather-brained flapper – a drunkard – a degenerate speed-maniac – any or all of these are allowed to drive a gigantic metal projectile of death, through crowded streets or along peaceful country roads.  The examination they have taken in order to get a driver’s license has made no test of their reliability or even of their sanity.  They are turned loose with full chance to kill or maim.

A bit melodramatic, but valid points – also nothing to do with the actual story, so.

But homilies aside, Lad of Sunnybank is another engaging group of stories that make for delightful reading for dog lovers of all ages.

Mr. Darcy’s Promise

//by Jeanna Ellsworth//published 2013//

18212370Hello,  my name is Sarah McCafferty and I judge books by their covers.  Seriously.  For some reason, this cover really weirded  me out, like if you look closely, Elizabeth’s face is really strange, so I just never bothered reading this particular Pride & Prejudice retelling.  But then it came up on Paperback Swap, so, what the hey.  Free book.

Most of the time, I don’t bother reviewing the P&P retellings I read, because they are almost all horrid.  Why do I put myself through this? you may ask.  Heck if I know.  It’s an addiction.  A terrible, terrible addiction.

However, every now and again, I come across one that’s actually decent.  And Mr. Darcy’s Promise, despite its weird cover, is actually a decent one.

First off, we all know that I have a weakness for stories where people get married first and then fall in love.  Well guess what happens in this book???  So I’m already a little biased in its favor.  Secondly, no gratuitous sex scenes!!  Woohoo!  Thirdly, people all seem normal…  no crazy Wickhams or wild-eyed enemies!  Score!  And finally, it’s actually fairly free of grammatical errors, as though the person who wrote this speaks English as her first language and graduated from high school is A’s in English.  Brilliant.

While Mr. Darcy’s Promise isn’t groundbreaking fiction, it’s a very pleasant and relaxing read, and a retelling of P&P that is, for lack of a better word, nice.  So if you, too, have a strange P&P addiction, and if you can get past the weird look on Elizabeth’s face on the cover of Mr. Darcy’s Promise, give it a whirl.  4/5.

Unequal Affections

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by Lara Ormiston

Published 2014

As I’ve confessed in the past, I really enjoy Pride and Prejudice retellings, most of which I don’t review because I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve read them, as the vast majority are really just dreadful.  Even so, I find myself endlessly fascinated by the many, many divergent paths those retellings can take, perhaps because it reminds me how one very small decision and impact a whole string of events.

The best part about Unequal Affections, which is actually a lovely book, and one that I’m going to end up recommending instead of hiding, is the introduction, wherein someone (I’ve had to return this book to the library as someone else had it on reserve; I finished this book in early March, so I’m sorry if I sometimes get a bit vague on the details!), not the author, basically explains how the majority of P&P stories are ridiculous because they have the characters scampering about stealing kisses (and more), and that’s all just truly not what would have happened.  In short, though she didn’t say it in so many words, the introductioner says Don’t expect shagging.  How singularly refreshing!

Unequal Affections starts (more or less) with Darcy’s proposal at Hunsford.  But in this version, instead of losing her temper and telling Darcy just what she thinks of him, Elizabeth listens to his proposal and asks for time to think about it before giving her decision.  This alone is enough to get Darcy thinking, as well.  Elizabeth eventually accepts him, and Darcy returns to Netherfield to be with her as they plan their wedding – and get to know each other better.

I think that the reason I enjoyed this version so much is that one thing that’s always made me a bit sad about the original is that this huge gulf of misunderstanding had to be overcome by Darcy and Elizabeth separately, as Elizabeth reads and digests Darcy’s letter, and Darcy relives and digests Elizabeth’s accusations at Hunsford.  In this story, Elizabeth freely confesses to Darcy before accepting his proposal that she does not love him, and through the course of their engagement, they end up working through what were the contents of the letter/proposal refusal in the original, together as they arise.

Darcy is very well-written, as a gentleman in love, but still a gentleman, and, honestly, still just a man who is often completely confused by Elizabeth because she is, after all, a woman.  Most of the original characters stay true to form, and the story flows just as naturally as the original.

Unequal Affections is a rare gem in a plethora of Pride and Prejudice retellings, one that is actually a worthwhile read, that involves story and dialogue rather than heated looks and stolen touches.  A lovely love story, but more importantly, a good story, I definitely recommend it.

Dear Mr. Darcy

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by Amanda Grange

Published 2012

Okay, I admit it: I’m a sucker for a good Pride & Prejudice retelling/sequel.  Tragically, there are FAR more bad ones than there are good ones.  Some of the ones that are delightful ideas involve rather graphic love scenes (Abigail Reynolds…  her ideas are really intriguing; her stories frequently just smut).  Just not my thing.  But every once in a while, I’ll find one actually worth the reading.  And Dear Mr. Darcy falls into that category for me.

Basically, Grange uses letters to tell the entire story of Pride & Prejudice, and she uses this format to give us insights into characters whose perspectives are not always explored in the original story.  By starting a few years before P&P opens, Grange also allows us to see how the death of Mr. Darcy’s father shaped a great deal of his future thoughts, words, and actions.  The letters also incorporate some found in the original story (think: Mr. Collins’s letter to Mr. Bennet), although not all of them (for instance, Mr. Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth after his disastrous proposal in Kent).  Grange also explores some of the more minor characters (like Mary), and gives some plausible reasons/pen-pals by creating a family that actually owns Netherfield, but is forced to lease it out.  (By making one of the daughters of this family Elizabeth’s friend, Grange creates another person in whom Elizabeth can confide, as Charlotte does not always fit the bill.  There are also daughters who are friends of Mary – surprisingly entertaining – and Lydia/Kitty.)

All in all, this is a frivolous, fun, clean little romp through the characters of Pride & Prejudice, and, for once, one that I don’t think would make Austen turn in her grave.  4/5.

Longbourn

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by Jo Baker

Published 2013

So this is a story about the servants at Elizabeth Bennett’s home of Longbourn.  There’s the housekeeper, Mrs. Hill, and her husband who works as the groom/butler/whathaveyou, and two girls, Sarah and Polly.  While the Bennett girls may have complained about their lack of money and entertainment, those who live belowstairs understand what it truly is to be poor and to work wretchedly long hours.  This book isn’t really a retelling of Pride and Prejudice because the main story has nothing to do with Elizabeth or her sisters; they are the background characters in this tale.

First, the pros:  I think that Baker did a good job of not destroying Austen’s characters.  Instead, the characters we tend to like from the original (like Elizabeth and Jane) are only more likable in this story, as they (unsurprisingly) treat their servants with kindness and respect.  Baker even goes a step further – some of the characters who are rather unlikable in most versions of the story (like Mrs. Bennett and Mr. Collins) are portrayed as people deserving more of sympathy than censure.  I have never felt more in charity with Mrs. Bennett as I did in this story.  She was just as annoying, but somehow more human.

But the cons – First off, Baker never tells us how old Sarah and Polly are.  After several chapters, we finally get an idea that Sarah is older – perhaps even close to twenty – while Polly is still fairly young, probably 10-12.  But it was a bit difficult to really get into the story and understand the perspectives with absolutely no concept of their ages.

The language was a bit crude.  Not overwhelming swearing or anything like that; it was just as though the author felt the need to constantly remind us that life is real under the stairs.  We don’t sugarcoat stuff.  So we have to use words (in both conversations and narrative) like piss and shit, e.g. “She slipped in some hog shit,” or “the baby smelled of milk and piss.”  It just got old after a while.  Apparently urine and manure can only be referred to as piss and shit, and apparently we have to talk about them ALL THE TIME.  Like this:

He wandered around a while, looking for, and failing to find, the necessary house: Polly passed by some minutes later, with a basket of peas from the kitchen garden, and saw him pissing in the shrubbery.

That sentence has NOTHING to do with anything.  It literally feels like she just wrote that sentence so she could work “pissing” into the narrative yet again.

It also felt like the author had gotten a list of modern necessities for writing a historical novel in 2013.  

  • Man who is secretly gay but of course no one suspects and he’s the nicest guy ever because he’s gay and spends his time sneaking out to sleep with other random gay dudes?  We got that covered.  (I mean, seriously:  “[he] died, as he had been promised that he would, at Longbourn – and died as he would have wished to, in the embrace of his lover, a hard-handed labourer or middle years from the next farm along…”  The description goes on, but I won’t make you suffer through it.  This guy didn’t need to be gay.  He’s not even that important of a character.  But we aren’t allowed to write books without a token gay person any more so.
  • Black man who is extremely cultured and ambitious?  We got that.  I’m not saying that there aren’t cultured black people, or that we can’t include them as characters in a book.  But this guy just felt so fake, like she finished writing the book and was like, “Oh my gosh!  I don’t have any black people in my story!  I’d better fix that!”  And while all the rest of the servants are barely literate, the black guy just happens to be the only one who has aspirations and is super intelligent.  I really, truly, am not saying that there aren’t ambitious, intelligent black people or that you can’t write about them; it just is so aggravating to see them written in such a cliched way.
  • Girl who has to take her own fate into her hands and hunt for her man because he’s too much of a goon to come for her?  We got that, too!  Of course the man who supposedly loves and cherishes her disappears without a trace and never bothers to send her a letter.  So she has to set out into the wide world alone to find him herself!  (Alone, unchaperoned, young female wandering around 19th century England?  Seriously!?)  And that part of the story we basically skip.  She leaves to find him.  Next chapter – she finds him!  Woot!  Weeks have passed where she’s been traveling alone, but we conveniently skip all of that.
  • Pregnant unmarried girl forced to give up her baby because her above-stairs lover won’t take care of it?  Check.  Although I have to say that the part where this woman realizes that she actually loves this baby and doesn’t want to give him up is the only part of the book I truly enjoyed.  The writing is beautiful.  

In the witching hour of a winter night, she brought forth a tiny scrap of a boy, who opened blue-black eyes and studied her with a sleepy wisdom, and whose suckling was a dragging ache in her breast, and whose tiny ruddy fists kneaded at her as though he was quite deliberately reshaping her and making her into someone altogether new.  What had hitherto seemed a problem to be solved was not revealed to be the answer: the very fact of the child made everything that had gone before shift and ripple and settle differently, because it all now led to this, and him.  And he was a perfect as a syllabub, or a pillowslip straight off the line.

I really love that paragraph.

  • Pre-marital sex that’s totally fine because “we’re in love!”?  Double check.  All I have to say is – really?
  • Pedophile?  We’ve even got one of those!

I could go on, but the point is, there was way too much 21st century mixed up in this tale to make it truly enjoyable for me.  Add to that the fact that she has Sarah go with Elizabeth to Pemberly after Elizabeth’s marriage, and then goes out of her way to make it appear as though all is not well there – that Elizabeth is distressed and homesick and that Darcy is as grumpy and un-lover-like as ever.  Then Sarah leaves Pemberly to go find her true love who’s ignored her for over a year, and we never hear anything more about the Darcys (because the story isn’t about them), and really, would it have been so difficult to make so that Darcy and Elizabeth were having a happy marriage instead of deliberately making it sound as though things were depressing?

And really, that was the problem with the whole book.  It was plain depressing.  Everyone’s story was sad.  No one was happy.  No one was happy, or had any prospect of happiness.  Perhaps Sarah and her man, but at the same time – I just wasn’t feeling it.  He was dishonest with her, lied about his past, than ran away from it, and never bothered to check after her or let her know that he was alive or where he had gone – is that really a man who is going to make a good husband??  The book was choppy, with lots of flashbacks and back stories.  It was always in third person, but jumped a lot to tell the thoughts of various characters, making it difficult to know who the story was really about – Mrs. Hill?  Sarah?  Polly?  James?  It ended up being about all of them, and so it was a bit overwhelming and not as interesting.  

That, combined with the rough language and casual references to sex (because we’re REAL below-stairs!) left me with no warm feelings towards this story.  The whole book felt like Baker was trying far too hard to shove the differences between the above-and-below stairs lives into my face, with the conclusion being that everyone is miserable, and that doesn’t really lend itself to relaxing reading.  1/5.