Moderate Applause

I don’t have a great deal to add to the wonderful reviews of FeMOMhist, Good (Enough) Woman, and Stacey, but I would like to commend them for their insightful takes on Death Comes to Pemberley, the first book read by our new Virtual Book Club. Definitely agree with the points made in recent discussion with VBC colleagues–primarily that (1) James’s Elizabeth seems far too tame to be, well, the Elizabeth Bennet we know and love, (2) it was sort of a let down that Elizabeth wasn’t more involved in the detection, and (3) there was simply too much monologue-ing.

I also felt that the enormous amount of backstory detracted from the forward momentum of the book. Every time a character is introduced, whether major or minor, we are treated to a long description that, in my humble opinion, slowed down the action to an unbearable degree.

In addition, there were times when I was just plain confused. In one such situation, we’re told how Sister came to be married, then another page or so later, that the grandparents don’t like to visit because of all the children (that was fast!), then another few pages later, we’re treated to a long explanation of why Sister can’t easily visit because of the children (though there seem to be fewer of them now), then we’re suddenly whisked to the nursery to greet Charles and Fitzwilliam (names that, until this moment, had been used only to indicate adult males so I couldn’t figure out at first why they were being held in the nursery with the nanny); however, these are the children of Elizabeth not Sister, then Sister talks about Charles again on the next page but means her husband. And none of this concatenated information really matters in the big scheme of the book but it bogged me down for an unpleasant amount of time.

It was delightful to encounter (an offstage) Mrs. Knightley and Mrs. Martin from Emma, who reportedly provide a sort of deus ex machina for one of the characters. (So like Emma to insert herself into the goings-on, yes? And huzzah to hear about Harriet’s happy marriage and number of children!)

In general, I greatly admire James’s revisiting of Pride and Prejudice, which is no easy feat. Unfortunately, taking that on means that there will be constant comparison, which doesn’t lend itself to an objective experience if one enjoys Austen. I’m glad to have read it, though: the solution to the mystery is interesting (and appropriately relies on the mores of the time). Death Comes to Pemberley is a fascinating book in many ways on its own merit, and there were moments where I just caught my breath and admired the writing (not in comparison with Austen but just as a well-turned phrase or idea).


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