Sunday, March 31, 2019

Mary B

Title:  Mary B:  An Untold Story of Pride and Prejudice
Author:  Katherine J. Chen
Publication Information:  Random House. 2018. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0399592210 / 978-0399592218

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "A child does not grow up with the knowledge that she is plain or dull or a complete simpleton until the accident of some event should reveal these unfortunate truths."

Favorite Quote:  "There are many things in life that only seem impossible, and it is part of the challenge to decide when we should take action and when we should hold back. If you aim for the best, you might achieve second best, but if you aim for what society thinks you deserve, you'll be a pauper for life."

Pride and Prejudice is perhaps one of my all time favorite books. I have read it multiple times, and find myself enjoying it each and every time. When a retelling or spin-off comes around, I am enticed into reading it. At the same time, I am hesitant to read it because can a retelling ever really measure up to the original?

A few years ago, I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and enjoyed it because it was so true to the original characters and chronology and yet so far out there with zombie mayhem. The storyline comparisons hold in that book, and the introduction of zombies is just funny. Longbourn by Jo Baker tells the story of the "downstairs" in the Bennett household; this story presents an alternate view that may be true to the times but was not the view for me. Death Comes to Pemberly by PD James is a murder mystery set in the "happily ever after" of the Pemberleys, and I suppose I prefer the "happily ever after" to stay untarnished. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld a modern day retelling of Pride and Prejudice, and unfortunately, for me, the premise of the urgency to get daughters wed does not translate to the more modern setting.

This book is a different take on the Pride and Prejudice story. As the title suggests, it is Mary's story. Mary is the middle sister, the "plain" one interested in her books and her music. This book is a first person narration that Mary may not be quite what she seems. It begins with the coming of Mr. Collins, an event directly from the original book. It continues to beyond the end of Pride and Prejudice, as Mary resides at Pemberly for a long visit.

This book ends up not being the book for me for two primary reasons. First is Mary herself. She is not a likable character. The beginning sets her up as a sympathetic child, who is repeatedly told she does not measure up. However, as the story progresses, she comes across as a self-centered, self-conceited woman who thinks herself better/smarter/etc. than those around her. "How well you put it, Miss Bennett, when you say you have tortured yourself these last few days. You seem very talented at that - holding on to things, taking them to heart, feeling offended. What good does any of that do, I ask you." She suffers some heartbreak, but the refrain of people not appreciating her loses its impact when it continues to come from her perspectives. Along the way, she also makes some pretty unforgivable decisions, further leaving nothing to sympathize with.

The other reason that this book presents a challenge to me is the fact the other characterizations in the book bear no resemblance to the characters from the original, except the names. This is particularly true of the Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett. I understand that the implication is that people change. However, these two are nothing like the individuals in the original. Their actions and words make no sense in light of the original. For example, Elizabeth is quoted as saying, "All I wanted was a comfortable life ... When I married Darcy, I was so happy. It was the attainment of an impossible dream. I felt ... I felt I'd done something unprecedented. Me, mistress of this place - could you imagine it? But I didn't realize that it came with a price, and that price would be my life." The implication is that she married for the money, which is a complete opposite from the original. So, the book loses me.

Unfortunately, I am not the reader this take on the Pride and Prejudice. Perhaps, after now having read several and disliked them for different reasons, I think I might say that I am not the reader for most retellings.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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