Because of a particularly nasty dental appointment, I found myself with a lot of time to finish P.D. James’ Death Comes to Pemberley, both while sitting in the waiting room, waiting for the novocaine to numb me, waiting for the alginate to set and afterward while moaning in bed from the unexpected pain (my dentist put a temporary crown over my cracked molar).
Regardless, I very much enjoyed Lady James’ continuation of Pride and Prejudice, cast as a mystery. It’s six years after Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet have married and they are enjoying their life at the Darcy estate Pemberley. They have two sons, good friends in Elizabeth’s sister Jane and her husband Charles Bingley, devoted servants and look forward to Darcy’s sister Georgiana, who has two suitors in Colonel Fitzwilliam (a Darcy cousin) and Henry Alveston, a rising young barrister.
If there’s any dissatisfaction in their lives, it’s the marriage between George Wickham and Elizabeth’s sister Lydia. And Lydia’s plan to arrive uninvited to a ball at Pemberley will result in the death of Captain Denny (you will remember he introduced Wickham to Elizabeth in P&P) in the Pemberley woodlands with Wickham accused of his murder.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve heard lackluster comments from friends and read some ho-hum reviews of the book, that are perhaps understandable because the book doesn’t neatly fit into a category. It’s ostensibly a mystery, but unusual in that no one person is seriously trying to solve the mystery. And if you’re expecting the usual dramatic reveal of the murderer or a detective summing up the case, you’ll be disappointed.
Neither does the book take the characters into unexpected directions. Elizabeth and Darcy, Jane and Bingley remain happy and their happiness is not seriously threatened by the events in the book. And you expected Lydia and Wickham to be troublemakers.
However, as James does not attempt to recreate Jane Austen’s narrative viewpoint—it’s not third person following a single character—I didn’t read the book expecting a strict continuation. Instead I was happily surprised how the author wove other Jane Austen stories into the book and expanded the world of Pemberley. I found the story enjoyable in a Robert Altman/Downton Abbey sort of way: lots of new characters; learning new details of familiar characters and being amused how all the plot strands fit together at the end.
And I didn’t reach the end of the book annoyed that James had somehow altered any of the characters I love from P&P. Instead, James gave me another insight into the motivations of Fitzwilliam Darcy.
I did find the 12-page prologue a little clunky, but I understand its necessity for newcomers to the story of Pride and Prejudice. But even though I said in the previous paragraph that I enjoyed learning some of Darcy’s motivations, I found it tedious for him to explain those motivations at the end of the book. But again, if you haven’t read P&P numerous times and if Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth aren’t more familiar to you than many of your relatives, then I suppose his recitation is useful.