Truth be told I don't have a favorite book, but when pressed to state a title, I often say Pride & Prejudice. I love the novel and the various movie versions, but I have had mixed results with the spinoffs and takeoffs of the Austen classic. Thus I was relieved to find Patrice Sarath's The Unexpected Miss Bennet to be both a good story and a fun nod to Austen.
Sarath revisits the Bennets several months after Jane and Lizzy's weddings and turns her attention on Mary, who is plainer, quieter, and more austere than her sisters. In an effort to help Kitty and Mary, Jane and Lizzy decide that it's best to remove their single, younger sisters from Longbourn and their mother's influence. We all remember what happened to Lydia, and Kitty is particularly vulnerable to inappropriate men.
While Kitty is sent to the Bingleys for the summer, Mary is to visit the Darcys. Even before Mary arrives at Pemberley, she is starting to blossom. Not only did she catch the attention of a young man, however briefly, at one of the Lucas's assemblies but she has begun to find her true self now that she's out from under the shadow of her more outgoing sisters. Lizzy notices almost immediately that Mary seems different, but the full extent of her sister's maturity isn't evident until the Darcys make a trip to Roslings to visit Aunt Catherine de Bourgh and the Collinses.
Patrice Sarath is obviously a student of Pride & Prejudice, and her development of Mary, the middle Bennet sister, is at once believable and surprising. Of all the Austen spinoffs, The Unexpected Miss Bennet shines in its characterizations. All the familiar people from the original novel seem spot-on. Mr. Collins, resplendent in his ridiculousness, is especially well done, and Mr. Bennet's sarcastic observations are perfect. We are introduced to a couple of new individuals, and the horse-loving Tom Aikens is a charming addition to the Bennet circle.
The novel is solidly based on the original and will be most successful with readers who have read Austen or who have at least seen one of the film versions. Although Sarath fills in some of the background, the real fun comes from discovering the links to Austen all on one's own, starting with the first sentence:
It is a comforting belief among much of society, that a plain girl with a small fortune must have no more interest in matrimony that matrimony has in her.Although Austen leaves Mary in Longbourn to care for her parents, Sarath finds a way to give the middle sister some of the famous Bennet characteristics. It's a joy to see Mary become a young woman who gives her opinions freely, who enjoys the outdoors, and who finds her independence.
I hope Sarath is planning to give us the inside scoop on Kitty. After that, she can tell us more about Lydia.
Published by Penguin USA / Berkeley, 2011
Source: Giveaway win (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)