This is the second Pride and Prejudice related fiction I’ve read recently (see my review of Death Comes to Pemberley). Both these books came to me from the library, and I was very excited to read them. Unfortunately both have also turned out to be damp squibs.
The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet started out very promising with Mary newly freed from the burden of taking care of her mother now looking forward to her freedom.
She sets her plans in motion. Inspired by a columnist in a newspaper, Mary decides to find out about the lives of the poor and write a book on them. In this spirit, she embarks on her travels, and soon lands into all kinds of messes.
And in the meanwhile, what’s happening with the other Bennet girls? Lydia is a drunk. Jane is a meek wife who has 12 children, and more miscarriages, and tolerates Bingley’s infidelity. Lizzie and Darcy though are the worst off. They have started to drift apart, and Darcy is haughtier than ever, aspiring to be Prime Minister of England.
Let me start with the good things about this book, and there are plenty of good things to like.
For one, I really loved the fact that McCullough chose to shine the spotlight on the less privileged people of that time. She doesn’t gloss over some of the existing injustices of the time – such as slavery, worker rights, women’s rights, and so on.
And this is not something that is an adjunct to the main story. All these issues are weaved right into the Bennet sisters lives. We have Jane a little upset that her husband keeps slaves in his plantation in Jamaica. Darcy’s haughtiness and privilege make him blind to how his wealth has been earned. We see how Mary is financially dependent on Darcy, and hence has restricted freedom.
What I didn’t like about the book was the half-baked plot and the really disastrous portrayal of Darcy. Of course, we always knew he has a tendency to be pompous, but in Pride and Prejudice, he also seemed like a nice man underneath the haughty veneer. Not so in The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet. In fact, he’s so obnoxious, and downright cruel at times that when Lizzie and Darcy finally resolve their differences in the end, I wasn’t happy for them. In this book, he keeps a huge secret from her, and I really, disliked the fact that in spite of many options to come clean, Darcy never does so.
Mary’s adventure was also implausible to me. Her thoughts of being an independent, maiden author were promising, but the scrapes she got into were unbelievable and annoying.
Added to the plot is a most mysterious handyman of Darcy’s who does a lot of dirty work (up to and including murder) to protect Darcy’s political reputation.
Yes, Darcy employs a man who is almost like a serial killer who kills people who could sully Darcy’s political campaign. True, he doesn’t know that his henchman is actually killing people, but still, that part of the story was completely unconvincing. In fact, Darcy is completely unconvincing. Full stop.
End of spoilers.
So, overall, this was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I liked the writing, which was refreshingly modern without being too much so. I liked the emphasis on developing a non-elitist, and realistic take on that time period.
However some parts of the story were really unrealistic and out there, and I disliked some of the character development in the book. Also, the super-pat ending, which is just not in tune with how the rest of the book is written.
In short, I think McCullough started off with all the right intentions. But somewhere along the way something went very bizarrely wrong. Once the book started to populate itself with Godmen spouting religious mumbo-jumbo, and assassins, it just stopped working for me.
What about you? Have you read this book? Did you like it? Do you recommend any sane book within the Pride and Prejudice-derived literature out there? Do let me know in the comments.
As such, unless I receive some strong recommendations, I am going to run far away from anything related to P&P.