Sunday, August 12, 2012

Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James

Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James

I mentioned last week that I'd started reading Death Comes to Pemberley. I borrowed the book from a Jane Austen purist who'd unwilling received a copy as a gift. While I do love Austen and Pride and Prejudice in particular, I'm open to adaptations and spin-offs1 and I started Death Comes to Pemberley with an open mind. Actually I was quite optimistic considering that that this particular spin-off was written by an author of some note. While I don't recall having read James' work before, I know her by reputation.

Death Comes to Pemberley takes place in 1803 and 1804 (Elizabeth and Darcy have been married for six years). The day before Lady Anne's ball, now an annual event at Pemberley, Mrs. Wickham arrives unexpectedly and in a state of great distress. In the course of that night it becomes clear that Captain Martin Denny has been murdered in the woods surrounding Pemberley and Wickham is the chief suspect.

James is quite obviously an Austen fan. In addition to her apologetic author's note, there's one passage that makes her feelings abundantly clear. When Elizabeth is recounting the time of her life put down in Pride and Prejudice, she speculates: "If this were fiction, could even the most brilliant novelist contrive to make credible so short a period in which pride had been subdued and prejudice overcome?" (47, emphasis mine).

I do feel that James tried to be true to Austen. She tries, successfully I think, to mimic Austen's style and language including the deliberate use of words that are now obsolete.2 Death Comes to Pemberley is clearly written by an Austen lover for other Austen lovers. And I'd recommend a quick reread of Pride and Prejudice before starting Death Comes to Pemberley because some of Pride and Prejudice's less memorable secondary characters play significant roles in Death Comes to Pemberley.

Death Comes to Pemberley was a surprisingly slow read for me (especially considering that it is only 291 and a mystery). I appreciated a different take on a Pride and Prejudice sequel, but I really wasn't crazy about the story. I didn't have the entire mystery figured out before the reveal, but I was definitely looking in the right direction. My strongest feeling about the book has to do with Darcy. I think one of the reasons Darcy is such a beloved romantic hero is because he is so horribly enigmatic. In Death Comes to Pemberley much of the narrative is being told from Darcy's perspective. We learn much about his thoughts and actions during the course of the novel and, worse, more of the wheres, whys, and hows of everything that happened during Pride and Prejudice. Precious little left to the imagination.
  1. I even read that atrocious, zombies-added one.
  2. I should have kept track of them to feature them on the blog, but I didn't have writing materials close to hand as I was reading and it would have been unforgivably rude to dogear someone else's book.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review. It sounds as though this book is more of a tribute than a mystery.

    Post-its instead of folding down pages? You are a very considerate borrower!