Friday, January 4, 2008

Pemberly by Emma Tennant

by Emma Tennant

What a load of horse manure. Really. I didn't start reading this book with much in the way of expectations (at least, I didn't think so). Since this is a sequel to a classic novel, I was by no means expecting it to live up to Austen's work, and I was prepared for some stupidity and dishonesty to Austen's characters and themes—after all, that's what happens when someone tries to write a sequel to a work they didn't write. (Hello, Scarlett, anyone?)

And yet, I still picked it up hopefully, since I had had some good experiences with similar Austen-esque material of late (such as this and this). And I was willing to forgive the book's shortcomings. I really WAS! But I must admit, I was unprepared for how bad this novel was. Really and truly, utterly baaaaaad.

So there was no witty dialogue—not too surprising. Who can imitate Austen's dialogue? And there were bits and pieces of lines stolen from the original book, also to be expected (it's like the author thinks this is cute or something to put in a bit of the original book's language—why? To prove that they have indeed read the novel they are attempting a sequel to?) The plot twists and the things that Tennant did with Austen's characters was at first entertaining and amusing—she killed off Mr. Bennett with a flick of the pen; gave Jane a child and another on the way; made it so Elizabeth and Darcy could not conceive a child of their own; and gave Lydia four under the age of four. All reasonable and interesting (except for the last—the math doesn't add up in Lydia's case, unless she had two sets of twins, which she hadn't). And then there was the idea of all the Bennett sisters and their families, widowed mother, Bingley and his sisters, Darcy and his sister, AND his aunt Lady Catherine all under the roof of Pemberly for Christmas. Intriguing...

However, it soon fell apart and proved to be far beyond the author's grasp and skill. For example, more and more logical errors cropped up throughout the text that just didn't make sense (Lydia's too-many children being one of these): a character knowing something they couldn't possibly have known; people carelessly misplaced and showing up where they couldn't possibly have been, etc. Just bad editing.

And yet, more: It is not possible for me to believe that the estate of Pemberly would be entailed should Darcy be unable to produce an heir. Unbelievable AND shows a sad lack of imagination on the part of the author (by borrowing yet another idea from the original novel and applying it nonsensically).

And then she begins to slaughter my favorite characters: some dialougue that is meant to pass off as Elizabeth's wit is actually just rude and crass insults; Elizabeth's independence and spirit is reduced to mere pigheadedness and selfishness; she allows Darcy's reserve and delicacy to lead him, after getting into an argument with his wife, to simply walk out on her without a word, and leave her alone for an entire season; after this episode, Elizabeth does not attempt to communicate with her estranged husband but begins to pursue a life as a governess. Apparently she does not understand the characters she is writing AT ALL.

And the crowning glory of stupidity, the most horrid thing of all, was to solve all the problems in the Darcys' marriage by a crass deux ex machina: it wasn't Darcy who had had a mistress and fathered an illegitimate child off her, oh no! It was Bingley—honest, open, kind, moral BINGLEY—and Jane, fresh from the sickbed from delivering a son for him, was perfectly fine with it—!

It was gross and ridiculous, awkward and preposterous, full of errors as I stated before, and ... and ... heavens, I don't believe in burning books, but if I ever needed to start a fire and was short on kindling, this book would be the first to go in. And I would probably enjoy ripping the pages from the spine and tossing them in. Blech.


Adrianne said...

Wynne you should try these books by Pamela Aidan: Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman, Duty and Desire: A Novel of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman, and These Three Remain: A Novel of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman
I have only read the first one so far and enjoyed it. The book club I'm in is reading it and I have so far " [found] it to be a faithful narrative of all [Darcy's] dealings" with the Bennets, etc. in the same time frame as the original P&P.
I of course think of Stephenie Meyer's Midnight Sun the glimpse of Twilight through Edward's eyes that she posted on her website.
I cannot vouch for the second and third book in this series, as the library has not yet been gracious enough to hunt them down and turn them over to me. But the first was enjoyable. :)

wynne said...

Thanks, Adri. I'll look 'em up!

Anonymous said...

Regarding 'Pemberley' by Emma Tennant I completely disagree with you. I loved it!! I had to read Pride and Prejudice at high school and didn't like it at age 15. Much later I saw the miniseries with Colin Firth and loved it, so was interested to read any sequels. I also loved the sequel to 'Pemberley','An Unequal Marriage' by Emma Tennant.
For me the writing style does not need to be the same as Austen's to make it enjoyable.

I recommend both these sequels to any fan of 'Pride and Prejudice'.
Bronwyn, Sydney, Australia