Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle

* * * 1/2

A tale of love and marriage, society balls and courtship, class and a touch of scandal, Pamela Mingle's The Pursuit of Mary Bennet is a fresh take on one of the most beloved novels of all time, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

Growing up with four extraordinary sisters—beautiful and confident Jane and Elizabeth, and flirtatious and lighthearted Lydia and Kitty—wasn't easy for an awkward bookworm like Mary Bennet. But with nearly all of her sisters married and gone from the household, the unrefined Mary has transformed into an attractive and eligible young woman in her own right.

When another scandal involving Lydia and Wickham threatens the Bennet house, Mary and Kitty are packed off to visit Jane and her husband, Charles Bingley, where they meet the dashing Henry Walsh. Eager and na├»ve, Mary is confused by Henry's attentions, even as she finds herself drawing closer to him. Could this really be love—or the notions of a foolish girl unschooled in the art of romance and flirtation?

I’ll make a confession here: I’ve never read Pride & Prejudice all the way through BUT I have seen the series with the charming Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy. Does that count? Anyway, I mention this because not having read P & P, I wondered if that would hinder me at all when I tackled The Pursuit of Mary Bennet.

If you’re looking for a sequel, this is certainly not it. Instead, Mingle has decided to write a story about the one sister we hardly know anything about. It seems daunting but I think Mingle steps up to the challenge nicely. Rather than mimic Jane Austen’s writing, she has planted Mary as the narrator, giving her her own distinct voice.  What we end up with is a lovely story about a sister once so easily disregarded by her family who steps out into the spotlight.

What surprised me most as I read Pursuit is how funny it is. Mary is essentially a girl after my own heart. She has a wry sense of humor, can be sarcastic and often times a bit too blunt. I love her! Her personality stands in sharp contrast to her sisters and other women of the time. To be honest, she would fit in easily with today’s crowd. And her older two sisters notice this change in her. Both Elizabeth and Jane admit to having ignored her for the most part and acknowledge that she is becoming a very smart and “well-mannered” young woman. They try to protect her from their family's scandals - though she is strong enough to handle them - and also encourage a potential courtship between her and Henry Walsh.

Her meetings with Henry are funny. They obviously like each other though customs of that time period forbid them from coming right out and saying it. That’s annoying. But Mary muddles through because she has plenty other things on her mind such as the mess that her sister Lydia has landed herself in. As with P & P, of course there are hiccups and misunderstandings that lead to a few tears and chaos. But as with P & P, things do turn around for the better.

I enjoyed reading The Pursuit of Mary Bennet very much. I went it to it with an open mind and returned with a particular fondness for Mary and her brand of girl power.

~ Bel

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