Sunday, October 28, 2012

Death Comes to Pemberley

Death Comes to Pemberley, by P.D. James

I didn't have high expectations for this book, because the reviews were lukewarm at best. Interestingly, the New York Times gave it a good review while actual readers were less impressed.

The unpopular Wickham is accused of murdering his best friend on the Pemberley estate, and Darcy is forced to come to his aid. The novel moves along at a fairly slow pace, and James introduces some new characters. The upshot is that this is a book mostly about the male characters of Pride and Prejudice, with Darcy mostly in the spotlight.

The female characters are very weak and lackluster, including our previously spunky, independent Elizabeth. Now a wife, mother, and mistress of Pemberley, her life consists mostly of managing the large household. Jane is her closest friend, and she features some in the book. In fact, perhaps because of the popularity of Downton Abbey and the like, Death Comes to Pemberley contains more details about the servant class at Pemberley. We see Elizabeth and Darcy interacting with the servants, and the servants actually play a role in the plot.

The biggest difference, however, between this book and the original Pride and Prejudice is the complete lack of comedy, which was one of the most memorable bits about P and P. Absent (except through letters) are Mrs. Bennett, Mr. Collins, and Lady Catherine DeBurgh, which brought great comic relief through their ridiculous words and actions. Elizabeth's reactions to their snobbish, outlandish behavior helped the reader appreciate her even more.

I have never read a P.D. James book before, but I'm told that this book is very different than her usual ones. One major gap I noticed was the absence of Lydia throughout Wickham's stay in the jail before his trial. Where did she go, and what was happening with her? Altogether, this book just didn't hold together well, and I missed Elizabeth Bennett.

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