11/08/2006

Pemberley (by Emma Tennant)

'Pemberly', a short novel by Emma Tennant, is supposedly a sequel to Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice'. It begins a year after Elizabeth and Darcy have married, after the death of Mr Bennet, and opens well with a comment parodying Austen, suggesting that Elizabeth must produce an heir to Pemberley. This is then the theme of the book, which revolves around a Christmas gathering of both Elizabeth and Darcy's family and friends.

I felt that the author had got hold of the characters and their voices accurately. We recently watched the BBC version of 'Pride and Prejudice', and I could 'hear' the relevant actors in Tennant's lines fairly clearly. The plot, too, was plausible: frequent misunderstandings between Darcy and Elizabeth based on his pride - albeit abated - and her tendency to leap to conclusions, trusting everything she hears.

On the other hand, contrary to the blurb on the back cover, I didn't feel the author had really got hold of Austen's style of writing at all. It felt too 20th century, with far too much of the characters' thoughts being described, and hardly any of the delicious irony that permeates 'Pride and Prejudice'. Nor was I very impressed with the two new characters introduced: an elderly and blubbery relative of Mrs Bennett's, and a young and pompous relative of Darcy's. As for the timeline, it was completely wrong: Elizabeth has been married for a year, yet her sister Jane has a child who must be at least two or three years old, and another on the way - and Lydia, who was only married a few months before Jane, somehow has four children!

Moreover, the plot seemed to ramble - not in the long-winded and amusing style that Austen uses, but with Elizabeth's thoughts and decisions changing constantly depending on her mood and who she happens to have spoken to most recently. Her reluctance to speak to Darcy about things that bothered her seem at variance with the great love she also shows, and the way he omits to tell her almost anything of importance (while communicating with his housekeeper, sister, and friend's sister) seems entirely unbelievable.

Moreover, I was uncomfortable that Mrs Bennett seemed even more vulgar than before. Not just in her snobbery and lack of sensible thought: in this book she is sometimes vulgar in the modern sense of the word, with some incidents being included for no apparent reason other than to show her in a poor light.

The the ending was rushed, with the predictable conclusion being described rapidly, without any particular hints or events leading up to it.

OK as a light read, as one possibility of what happened 'after' Pride and Prejudice, but not brilliant.

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