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A good story but let down in too many places
on 29 May 2006
I bought this book on the strength of the reviews from Amazon.co.uk and, to some extent, these reviews were accurate. The overall feeling from these reviews is that this is a fun, lighthearted, saucy adventure which worthily carries on the P&P story but this time shedding light on the marriage in all its facets, including in the bedroom.
Yes, this book was (in some places) fun and lighthearted; it was certainly saucy (although that side of things petered out more after the middle of the book), but did it worthily carry on from Jane Austen's original?
In my opinion, no. The main difference (apart from the sex scenes) being the language. Austen of course had the significant advantage of writing about her own era, Linda Berdoll is having to compose dialogue for people living 200 years ago on another continent (she's an American author). Unfortunately she doesn't succeed. Admittedly this is a very tricky thing to do, but Georgette Heyer managed it writing as recently as 1971 so it's not impossible. Part of the problem seems to be that someone's told her that there are a whole load of conjunctions that will seem appropriate for the era - such "Albeit" and "Howbeit" as alternatives for "Although". And they're not. At least not all the time. So you get sentences like this: "Forthwith of Goodwin's leave-taking was a splash as Darcy got into the tub." Forthwith??? And another example, "Howbeit that was odd, Hannah was not a busybody. Miss Bennett had married Mr Darcy. Period." Howbeit??? Period??????!!! ("Period" is an Americanism; for Brits it usually means menstruation - unfortunate in this context. We would say "Full stop".)
Americanisms abound as usual (sigh). The third season is "fall", Mr Darcy "inquires" rather than "enquires", the insidious "gotten" appears again. These mistakes are all really common in Regencies by American authors but it's so frustrating to read them. In mitigation for Ms Berdoll, this book was originally self-published so she presumably didn't have a professional editor - she doesn't seem to add more Americanisms than most other American authors who DO have editors, so this is one mark in her favour. Interestingly, in my UK edition the spelling was generally British English (colour, favour), except for in the aforementioned "inquires".
Reading the book, the prose is turgid and chock-ful of supposed 19th century phraseology - only it's wrong. Mainly there's too much of it. An example: "Enlightenments upon life at Pemberley in general and being a wife specifically came with all due regularity. These wisdoms rained down upon Elizabeth with such dispatch, she occasionally had to stop and take a breath to be able to function at all. In all this befuddlement, the descent of her monthly terms was not remotely a comfort." Yes, they are discussing Elizabeth's Full Stop there. This is just a random example on the first page I turned to of the thicket of weird phrases one has to fight one's way through to make progress in the book. Again, this improved after the middle of the book - perhaps Linda Berdoll hit her stride there - but it rendered the beginning of the book very difficult to read. In fact, if I hadn't bought it but had borrowed it from the library, I'd have probably stopped a third of the way through and taken it back.
And Geography. Someone REALLY should have given this author a map of England with a scale. I was amazed to discover that one character had considered walking from Pemberley (Derbyshire) to Portsmouth in a day. Mind you, seeing as Darcy and Elizabeth were able to journey by carriage from London to Pemberley in a day, this is perhaps not so astonishing. The geography went very haywire in the third part of the book, where after taking the carriage (rather than walking) to Portsmouth this character apparently travels half of the length of England NORTH to get to Dover. Obviously Linda Berdoll had the map held at 90 degrees when reading it, as well as awarding her horses superhuman speed and stamina in order to make these 2-3 day journeys happen in an afternoon. Most amazing of all, Lady Catherine de Bourgh has to leave home (Rosings Park, in Kent) before sunrise in order to arrive at Pemberley mid-morning. Wow. It would take me longer than that to drive from Kent to Derbyshire at 70mph with empty motorways so her horses and carriages must be true marvels. Perhaps it's mean of me to poke fun at these errors but they seriously detracted from the story to me - and they would be SO easy to check up on. Kent to Derbyshire is about 200 miles, and surely Berdoll could have found this out easily enough, had she bothered to look.
And now on to the sex scenes. Well, they weren't as `bad' as I had expected. Of course Jane Austen didn't write about this kind of thing, no doubt partly because she never married. But this side of the book, although maybe a little tacky, does give you the fun aspect of the book. You also learn an amazing amount of euphemisms for body parts and sexual acts, although I'm not entirely sure how useful this knowledge is.
Berdoll introduces many new characters and these are fairly well done. It's what she does with the characters we know and love that is disappointing. Their morals and behaviour aren't as I expected them to be, knowing how Jane Austen left the story. I won't write any more as it would be a spoiler, but suffice it to say the "Mr Darcy Takes A Wife" characters are more earthy and, dare I say it, 21st century, than Jane Austen's characters.
In conclusion, there is much about this book that is fun. There's also much about it that's surprisingly dark, and it is by no means a jolly read. People die, people's lives are blasted by circumstance, people's marriages have pain. It's worth a read, but in the knowledge that it's a very different story from Jane Austen's.