Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Death Comes To Pemberley

From previous posts you will know that I am 'Austenite' and that Pride and Prejudice is my favourite ever book. As a result I have read so many modern adaptations and variations of the book that I feel a part of the Bennet family. I had been looking forward to reading P.D James' Death Comes To Pemberley ever since I read an interview with the author last summer. It offers a very different premise to other P & P spin-offs and promised to stay loyal to Austen's style of writing... warning paragraphs below may contain a couple of spoilers!

The book blurb is quite spooky with reports of a 'spectral' carriage speeding towards Pemberley the night before Lady Anne's Ball (Darcy's deceased mother), containing Lydia screaming that her husband, her mischievous husband, has been murdered. Cleverly, it turns out that this is not the case, with Wickham actually becoming a murder suspect, with all evidence pointing towards him.

The book starts with a brief description of the original tale and an introduction to all of the characters. This I skimmed through quite quickly as I know the story inside out, but it is quite useful for readers who have not read P & P or may have forgotten parts. There are lots of new characters introduced from the Pemberley staff, to the family living in the woodland cottage in the grounds to local police officers and magistrates, leaving a Downton Abbey style impression.

This is my first P.D James book, so I don't know how this compares to her other novels but I found the narrative style quite interesting. The beginning is as confusing to the reader as it is to the characters involved, but it all begins to be clearer as the novel goes on due to character conversation, the inquest and the trial. The information and evidence is repeated numerous times which makes the reader feel very informative, but it can at times get a little annoying. I guessed the conclusion quite early on and I found the involvement of Mrs Younge (Georgiana's companion who was involved in persuading her to elope with Wickham in P & P) a revelation too far and that it interfered too much with the original story.

The writing style is very similar to Jane Austen's but I found it far too factual and there was none of the famous Austen wit, which made me a fan of P & P. There is not enough Elizabeth Bennett - this is very much a story of the men of the novel. Elizabeth and Darcy's relationship is portrayed as very romantic and idyllic with none of the fiery spark or banter that I expected. Wickham and Colonel Fitzwilliam's personalities seem very different to the original novel and I missed the presence of Mr and Mrs Bennet - two huge characters who only appear briefly. 

I also found the epilogue hugely frustrating, with Darcy and Elizabeth discussing their courtship with some interesting theories from James. Would Darcy really have made his first proposal in such poor taste (announcing he wanted to marry Elizabeth against his better judgement and despite her embarassing family) on purpose as he knew she would refuse? I don't think so!

However, I did enjoy this book and will probably read it again in the future. Like Austen's novels, it feels like a very familiar read to curl up with on a dark winter's evening and I would recommend this to all Austen aficionados to make up their own minds!

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