Don’t go back to Pemberley.

March 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

Today feels like the first day of spring. I may be being overly optimistic, the beginning of March is a little early after all, but it feels like the time of reading books wrapped up in bed is coming to an end for this season. One of my best memories from last summer is devouring almost the whole of One Day sitting under a tree in the park, before going for a leisurely al fresco meal. It’s not often that Sheffield feels like being on holiday and I want those days again. Last weekend I finally finished reading A Dance with Dragons and I feel bereft. I know that I face another five years of waiting before the next book comes out, and I’m FURIOUS that I’ll lose the momentum I’ve built up reading the whole series at once. In danger of letting my reading lapse in favour of becoming George R.R.Martin’s full-time stalker, I needed a proper pick-me-up of a book, something that would stop me googling the price of airfare to New Mexico. So I made the mistake of going back to Pemberley.

I am a huge Austen fan, I first read Pride and Prejudice when I was twelve. I did not in any way appreciate it at the time, but I’ve read it countless times since. In fact I’ve read all Austen’s novels multiple times, a side effect of having to study her at university. Check me out, my expensive education may have been pointless and ultimately resulted in me being in debt forever, but I sure know my Austen. A hollow victory perhaps. Due to my love for Austen, and my snobbish Lit student attitude problem, I tend to be dismissive about sequels. I don’t want to go back to Pemberley; I don’t want to know anything about Elizabeth and Darcy’s marriage. Austen was wise enough to leave things at the altar; she knew that no marriage could be perfect. I also suspect that Austen realised that the excitement of her novels results largely from the uncertainty that came before engagement; once a young lady had made a good marriage she was settled and her place in society largely secured. And Austen’s young ladies all make fabulous marriages.

I tried, and failed, to make it through Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and have distant memories of a terrible trashy novel I read as a teenager where Elizabeth was barren and Darcy distant. So I wasn’t exactly excited at the prospect of Death Comes to Pemberley. It is at least, I thought to myself, an original idea, and it’s written by P.D. James so it can’t be totally awful. And it wasn’t; it just wasn’t great. The novel centres on a murder in the woodlands of Pemberley, which involves all of our favourite characters from the original novel. As this is a mystery story I don’t want to give spoilers, but I can say that I had no real issues with the plot. It was a perfectly well written, serviceable murder mystery. It was just a bit dull, missing the spark of social intrigue that makes Austen so readable. The novel is 300 pages long, and nothing happens for the first 100 except setting up for a ball that never happens. Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity in my opinion was the murder happening the night before the ball instead of during it. Lydia staggering hysterical into a ballroom full of the cream of society, shrieking that Wickham has been murdered would have been an excellent scene. Alas, it was not to be. Fellow Austen fans will be relieved to know that everything is sorted out fine in the end, and Elizabeth even manages to get Darcy to open up about his feelings. Yeah right, like that would ever have happened.

I have never read anything by P.D. James, so I have nothing to compare Death Comes to Pemberley with, but I’m going to assume that her success is well deserved. However I think that imitating Austen is a step too far for even the most accomplished writer. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but I think everyone should resist the urge to go back to Pemberley. It never turns out well.


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