Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Death Comes to Pemberley, by P.D. James

I love living in Ottawa, the national capital of Canada.  It’s a big city, but it’s not so big that you wander around downtown feeling lost all the time; it’s small enough that you can run into people you know regularly in the hotspots (like the Market and Elgin Street); and it has all the amenities you could want (theater, shopping, sky diving – okay, so I don’t use the last one, but I know you can do it hereabouts).  The one thing I don’t like about living in Ottawa is Canada Day.  The heat, the crowds, and the progressively ridiculous stage-shows on the Hill make the day a hassle to me.  About five years ago, I figured out how to avoid the whole affair: hunker-down in my apartment with the six-hour British version of Pride and Prejudice, staring Collin Firth as Mr. Darcy.  Suddenly, Canada Day has become something I enjoy every year again…. So, needless to say, July puts me in the mood for some more P&P, which meant that Death Comes to Pemberley, by P.D. James, was a no-brainer reading choice.

Death Comes to Pemberley falls into that category of ‘fan-fiction,’ but without all the homo-eroticism that is so popular on-line.  Rather, it picks up the story of Elizabeth and Darcy six years after their marriage.  While preparing for the annual ball at Pemberley, they get a shocking visitor: Lydia Bennett, who is in hysterics and claiming that her husband, Wickham, and long-time friend, Denny have been murdered.  Out into the night goes Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam to find the gentlemen in question.  The rest of the tale reads like the murder-mysteries that we all know and love.  The plot is interesting and true to the spirit of the original Austen work.

Of course, with a cast of characters that everyone who picks up this book is already going to know, James doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room in changing them up.  I think she holds true to the characters that Austen originally wrote; you can hear Jane’s goodness, Lydia’s selfishness, and Georgiana’s quiet strength in this work.  However, Colonel Fitzwilliam has become something of a sour puss.  Moreover, the reader spends very little time with Elizabeth in this book.  The trade-off to this is getting to hear Darcy’s voice more.  If you go back and re-read the original Pride and Prejudice, you realize the Darcy’s role is very minor (he and Elizabeth can’t be together for more than two or three weeks out of the entire work) – but James has written quite a lot on his personality and actions.  Luckily, it’s believable and (I think) true to Austen’s character development.

However… this book drags on and on and on… I’m of the opinion that if you’re going to use a well-loved piece of the literary zeitgeist as your backdrop, you sure as shit better tap into the original author’s style and voice.  Oddly enough, James seems to do this – you can hear Austen in the prose; where James falls short is in the exposition – it takes forever to get anywhere with the story, something Austen avoided.  Some judicious editing could have brought this book in under 200 pages.  I’m of the firm opinion that the last 50 pages or so could be dropped completely, the information imparted elsewhere, and the reader allowed to explore other books had James ended her own in a timely manner.

So, final verdict?  I would say read this book if you’re a big Austen fan.  If your not, take a pass.  If you consider this a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, it’s satisfying to see what has become of the characters.  If, however, you’re looking for a murder-mystery, Death Comes to Pemberley is not going to be my first choice for a recommendation.  While the characters are solid and the basis for the plot is intriguing, it’s far too full of chaff to make it an exciting read.  While death might have come to Pemberley, this reader wishes the editor’s pen had come to James.  

Free shipping

No comments:

Post a Comment