Monday, November 4, 2013

Mary Bennet Finally Gets Her Due

Expected Publication:  November 26th, 2013
The Pursuit of Mary Bennet: A Pride & Prejudice Novel
By: Pamela Mingle
William Morrow Paperbacks
ISBN-13:  9780062274250

A tale of love and marriage, society balls and courtship, class and a touch of scandal, Pamela Mingle's The Pursuit of Mary Bennet is a fresh take on one of the most beloved novels of all time, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

Growing up with four extraordinary sisters—beautiful and confident Jane and Elizabeth, and flirtatious and lighthearted Lydia and Kitty—wasn't easy for an awkward bookworm like Mary Bennet. But with nearly all of her sisters married and gone from the household, the unrefined Mary has transformed into an attractive and eligible young woman in her own right.

When another scandal involving Lydia and Wickham threatens the Bennet house, Mary and Kitty are packed off to visit Jane and her husband, Charles Bingley, where they meet the dashing Henry Walsh. Eager and na├»ve, Mary is confused by Henry's attentions, even as she finds herself drawing closer to him. Could this really be love—or the notions of a foolish girl unschooled in the art of romance and flirtation?


     Mary Bennet has always been the black sheep in her family.  As the middle sister, she's on the outside of things while Elizabeth and Jane stick together and Lydia shares everything with Kitty.  Now with three of her sisters married and Kitty on her way to being engaged, Mary is feeling more on the outs than ever.  She has improved very much in the past three years, overcoming many of her youthful faults but everyone still thinks Mary is destined for spinsterhood and only good for attending Lydia while she's confined before childbirth; in general Mary is expected to cater to everyone else's conveniences and lives.  But when Mary begins to feel the start of something between herself and Mr. Henry Walsh (Bingley's friend, whom Kitty has set her cap for), things begin to go into a tailspin.  Is she able to genuinely understand what Henry's true feelings towards her are?  And can Mary bring herself to act upon them, even if it means stepping out from the shadows and fighting one of her sisters for something that is rightfully hers?
     Pamela Mingle impressed me with her young adult novel, Kissing Shakespeare.  So when she messaged me to ask if I was interested in reading her new novel, I took a peek at what it was about.  Imagine my surprise when I found out it's an Austen sequel!  I have an extreme addiction to them, always searching for one that has the quality of the original novel.  I have read good sequels and bad ones, but only two others that centered around the often neglected middle sister, Mary.  I was immediately intrigued, and agreed to review the book if Pamela had the publisher send me a copy.  Always having wondered what was actually going on in Mary's mind throughout Pride and Prejudice, this was definitely an interesting take on her personality and feelings.
     This novel is told in first person perspective, which as such gives us more insight into Mary's slightly bitter feelings toward her family and her realizations about her own character/personality.  I liked knowing that Mary has purposely improved her appearance, become better read and taken piano lessons.  The best thing in the world is when an obnoxious (even if they are pathetic because of it) character realizes it and changes things for the better.  I do agree with some other readers that the change to first person from Austen's original third person omniscience did sacrifice the insights into the other characters, and quite a bit of their depth.  In that respect this novel was pretty contemporary, as classics tend to get you into everyone's head versus individuals (yes, there are exceptions) and vice versa about contemporaries.  There was some truly interesting subplot regarding Lydia and Mary, who become counterpoints for one another when Lydia returns home pregnant and unsure who the Father is.  Mary becomes her keeper for the duration and when the baby is born (Felicity), Mary pretty much takes over as her Mother in the face of Lydia's selfish immaturity.  But as a reader, you do see the flip side in Mary dominating Felicity to the point where Lydia can't even attempt motherhood anymore.  
     Henry Walsh's attentions to Mary were pretty straightforward, but as we only have Mary's perspective there are misunderstandings as to whether or not he prefers her or Kitty.  I have to say that Kitty reminded me of Louisa Musgrave in Persuasion - so caught up in the idea of marriage that she really didn't care who it was with.  She fancied herself in love with Henry, even though she barely knew him.  Mary and Henry have some interesting interactions, but I did feel that a revelation about Henry's past (a secret he's been keeping) was like something from a gothic novel, rather than an Austen novel.  That said, as much as I liked the sweet naivety of the first romance Mary has ever had, it was her development as a character through her love and devotion to Felicity that made this book for me.  Even when Mary is no longer part of her life, she's been changed by the unconditional love and forced to think about her own wants and needs.  It takes away a little of her bitterness.  There are a couple unsettling moments, but overall this is fairly high up on the list of Austen sequels that I've read.  The prose is beautiful without being overwrought and the plot is enjoyable.  If you don't mind Austen reboots, revisions or sequels I'd recommend it.  Interested to see where Pamela goes next in her writing! :)

VERDICT:  4/5  Stars

*I received an ARC  from the author.  No money or favors were exchanged for this review.  This book's expected publication is November 26th, 2013.  Also, thanks to William Morrow Paperbacks for my ARC in conjunction with the author.*

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