Book Review – An indulgence for the fans

2012-02-24 07:59

This wonderful novel has been sitting at my bedside for weeks – I couldn’t bear to start it for fear of finishing it.

Jane Austen’s novel of manners and marriage at the turn of the 18th century has retained its magic for generations and it is a wonderful gift that a novelist of PD James’ calibre should choose to write a sequel that is also a murder mystery.

James, who will turn 92 in August, is the creator of the poet-policeman Adam Dalgliesh, so perhaps she is best placed to have created this ode to one of English literature’s most beloved works, Pride and Prejudice.

Death Comes to Pemberley is expertly researched, employing the policing systems and the social sensibilities of the time to create a novel that will delight Austen fans.

It is by no means the first sequel nor is it likely to be the last – a couple of years ago Elizabeth was turned into a zombie hunter in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I didn’t bother with it.

This though really is one for Austen’s army of admirers, James writes it in Austen’s style and stays true to the concerns the original author raised in her novel.

She doesn’t add racy bits, she doesn’t jar the sensibility of the time and she never disrespects Austen’s characters.

The reasons for Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy’s longevity in the hearts’ of readers are myriad. I love the story because Elizabeth is a woman of her time, but one who also transcends it and she teaches Darcy to do the same.

This sequel, which is set on the cusp of the Napoleonic Wars, begins with the Darcys enjoying dinner with their relatives, the Bingleys, on the eve of the yearly Lady Anne Ball at Pemberley.

But their peace is shattered by none other than Elizabeth’s troublesome younger sister Lydia?– the sister who nearly scuppered all their chances of marrying well by eloping with the cad, George Wickham.

She arrives dishevelled and hysterical, saying that her beloved Wickham has been murdered. So begins our delightful, if a little scandalous, return to Pemberley.

I think Austen would be delighted that her study of the human condition, like her characters, has far transcended its time.

Death Comes to Pemberley is worthy of sitting on my book shelf beside the novel that inspired it.

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