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A hybrid of a book...
on November 10, 2011
As a longtime "Jane-ite", I have always considered Jane Austen's work to be sacrosanct and not to be touched by other, lesser writers. I've stayed away from modern attempts to bring Austen's characters and stories - particularly those of "Pride and Prejudice" - to life in sequels. No one, I thought, had the literary "chops" to take Austen's characters and write a competent sequel. Then I heard that PD James, a mystery writer I had long admired, had taken a stab at writing a sequel.
The resulting novel - "Death Comes to Pemberly" - is an awkward combination of mystery and comedy-of-manners and doesn't quite come off. The two genres don't quite come together, even in Ms James' deft hands. Maybe it was the choice of centering the story on George Wickham and a murder he is being tried for having committed. Wickham has never been a particularly interesting character in the original novel; he was the center around which events took place, but I never wanted to know more about what happened to him after the novel ended. And, in fact, that raises a particular question in my mind. Who ARE the characters in "P&P" I would want to read about? I can't think of a single one, actually.
Maybe that's because I figured a long time ago that "Pride and Prejudice" was a completed story. There's a reason an author doesn't write sequels; maybe everything that can be said about a cast of character has already been said. That's what Margaret Mitchell always felt about "Gone With The Wind". And Jane Austen certainly didn't return to any of older books when writing new ones. (In this book, James writes a little about the "Eliot" family").
So what about PD James' book? It seemed like an "adequate" mystery and an "adequate" comedy-of-manners. I've read most of James' back list and I wouldn't put this book near the top of the list. But, on the other hand, sometimes "adequate" can be a good read, which this book is. I'm not sure anyone who isn't familiar with Jane Austen would bother reading it, but for Austen fans, it's a suitable read for a rainy day.