Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Darcys and the Bingleys

A Tale of Two Gentlemen's Marriages to Two Most Devoted Sisters
by Marsha Altman
Sourcebooks Landmark
417 pages
Reviewed by Melissa

As I was reading this book, I discovered I was torn between my intellectual, Jane Austen purist side and my emotional, chick-lit loving side. As I discovered I cannot reconcile these two halves of my reading experience, I thought it would be beneficial to transcribe the conversation between the intellectual (IB) and the emtional (EB) sides of my brain.

IB: So, the premise is that Darcy and Elizabeth and Bingley and Jane get married. That's it.
EB: Yep. And they discover the joy of "relations". And they giggle a lot. And basically are wonderful. *swoon.*

IB: There's no other plot?
EB: Well, there's a bit in the second half of the book involving Caroline Bingley and a rogue from Scotland whom she thinks she wants to marry, but she ends up marrying a brilliant London doctor in the end.

IB: That's it?
EB: Pretty much.

IB: So what's the point of the book? Really. It doesn't sound like enough for 413 pages.
EB: Well, there's a lot of time spent on the married couples' sex lives. See, Bingley asks Darcy for sex advice (since Darcy, um, has experience in these matters), and Darcy dashes to London two days before their weddings and finds a copy of the Kama Sutra for Bingley. (He happens to already have a copy stashed away in a secret drawer at Pemberley.) Bingley reads it, and Jane discovers it, and it evetually gets around to Elizabeth, so they're all in the know, which leads to many clever asides and illusions. It's all very fun, but tasteful.

IB: You've got to be kidding me.You know that the Kama Sutra wasn't even translated into English until the 1880s, right? It's wildly historically inaccurate. I won't even get started on the doctor and how his practices were overly progressive for the time.
EB: But this isn't a history book, it's fiction.

IB: True, but it's nice to have good history in historical fiction.
EB: Granted. But it doesn't change the fact that it was fun reading.

IB: Okay. I'll give you that. So, how about the characters? Do they live up to Austen's original?
EB: Well, Altman develops Bingley into a nice character: he's loving, kind and considerate towards his wife, and comes off as an intelligent, if slightly goofy man. Caroline is much nicer in this book than in the original. Jane's still a cipher-- she doesn't do a whole lot besides have babies -- but Lizzy is her loveable, witty self. And, Darcy... well, he comes off his pedestal quite a bit.

IB: What do you mean?
EB: Well... turns out that he tends to get quite drunk, fairly often.

IB: Mr. Darcy as a lush? As someone who gets smashed? Unheard of!
EB: But it makes him more human, more likeable.

IB: He wasn't unlikeable in the original! He was noble, proud, yes, but loveable. Besides the book wasn't really about his love for Lizzy. It was about class and character and pride...
EB: Yeah, but the falling in love is what's fun about the book. We all LOVE reading about how Darcy fell for Lizzy, and this just takes it one step further -- how Darcy pleases and is pleased with (and by) Lizzy. Good stuff.

IB: Yes, but it's not Pride and Prejudice.
EB: True. But that doesn't mean it's not good.

IB: It's just not faithful.
EB: No one will ever duplicate Jane Austen's brilliance, and it never works when authors try. The best adaptations are the ones that take the characters and reimagine them in human ways -- even if that means bending history a bit -- to make them more accessible to modern readers.

IB: But what about ...
EB: I will grant that the book seemed to be going off the A&E movie with Colin Firth more than the book. There's an extended sub-plot with Darcy and his fencing, which wasn't in the original at all, and, really, was only one teeny scene in the movie. But, Altman developed it into something interesting, which helped serve this new Darcy's character.

EB: Oh, shove it. Go read the original, if that's what you want. This one is a fun, light, interesting romp that uses characters from a beloved book. Altman did it well; for the most part, it's engaging, funny, and enjoyable. So, she tweaked history and Austen's characters a bit. There's nothing wrong with that. It's a novel. She's entitled to do what she wants with the characters.

IB: (spluttering)
EB: Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go read Pemberley Shades. I've heard it's good, too.


J.S. Peyton said...

That review was hilarious! I've just started reading "The Darcy Connection" by Elizabeth Aston, and I have the IB vs. EM conversation every time I pick it up! Lol.

Elizabeth said...

That's exactly how I felt after reading this novel!

Becky said...

Love your review, very clever.

Anonymous said...

One of the best reviews I have read in months ..By far the best :)