Why I have it: I picked this up when browsing in Waterstones with my mom. We’ve recently rewatched the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and when mom read the back of this and realised why the Pemberly of the title sounded so familiar we both got excited and eager to sink back in what is one of my favourite fictional worlds.
I didn’t immediately realise it was a crime novel, other than the obvious fact that the blurb says that Lydia believes Wickam, her husband, has been murdered. Obviously if I was familiar with P.D. James’ work at all I would have realised but alas I’m not. That didn’t put me off reading the book as I do like and have reviewed crime novels in the past but it genuinely is just a crime novel, with very little added by the fact that Austen’s characters are used. It is not even as deep as a crime novel should be due to the fact that she fails to go deeply into any of the characterisations and some characters are conveniently sent out of the room at odd intervals so that she doesn’t have to find a position for them in the ensuing ‘action’ (I use that word unwillingly). I did not find it to be very intricate or clever though others may find some of the revelations at the end to be more surprising than I ultimately did. Largely I feel like I read a detailed summary of a crime and a court case which the addition of Austen’s characters added little to.
I found it repetitive in trivial details which seemed to be an indiosyncracy of the author, though having not read James’ work widely or at all other than this novel I cannot confirm this. There was also several instances where information known by one character or worse still the omnipresent author would be inherited by another character. I was often left trying to figure out when Elizabeth and Darcy had had time to exchange information in particular, as they kept mentioning how little time they had to confide in each other. The exchanges between some characters was stilted and there were missed opportunities to delve deeper into relationships and characterisations which is the main point of reviving long set to rest characters is it not? Without spoiling the story the interactions of certain characters who have serious fissures in their past relationship were literally brushed over unceremoniously. In particular Lydia has maybe 5 lines in the entire novel which considering the premise of the plot is unfathomable.
There is evidence of extensive research into the social constructs of the time and the way the court system worked however characters who have little to no knowledge of the legal court occasionally become mouthpieces for what is evidently the authors views on how the court system of the time could have been improved. There is also mentions of Mary Wollstonecraft works which at first seems like a clever and enlightened way of showing the type of conversation which may have been had at the time but on further reflection is more of an unnecessary nod to what the author has read about the period.
Of course all in all it was amazing to delve into the world so magically formed by Austen so long ago. I am a recent but avid fan of her work and was delighted to dip back into the world of Pemberly in particular…I mean Mr. Darcy and Lizzie are magical together, I just wish this incarnation of them had been more successful as a whole.
As an added bonus there is a brief description of the interaction of characters of Pride and Prejudice with those of Persuasion and Emma, which was bizarre and frankly unnecessary in the case of Persuasion as it doesn’t add to either story and gives little depth of knowledge of those characters that a cursory reading wouldn’t gleam and is only slightly more successful in the case of Emma.
I gave it three stars on my Goodreads because though this review (like many of my reviews :/) concentrates on what was bad about the book it did have good qualities. I almost always love a book as I read it (otherwise honestly why would I bother reading it) but then have to sit down and reflect on it so that I don’t end up giving five stars to everything I read when they just don’t deserve it (in my opinion of course). There is a lot of the start of the book given over to summaries of what happened in Pride and Prejudice which for me seems unnecessary as I can’t imagine why someone who hadn’t read the original text would want to read a glorified sequel. Though I have said that there isn’t a lot of depth given to any of the characters in the start surrounding the summaries is little snip bits of what James believes happened to these characters after Austen stopped chronicling their lives. Though she later looses me when she starts over analysing and in my eyes villainising innocent characters from the original book these first pages truly won me over and were what I wanted when I bought the book. Ultimately though I was tempted to just give it two stars I gave it three because I enjoyed the experience of reading it. It was engaging despite being at times too concentrated on the actual court case.
What I’m reading now: The girl with the Pearl Earring, though this may change as I haven’t totally engaged with it yet.