The Pursuit of Mary Bennet: A Pride and Prejudice Novel - Pamela Mingle

Meh. Two Stars feels a bit stingy but Three Stars to indicate I actively liked it too generous. I pounced upon this book when I saw the giveaway in the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program because I was in dire need of comfort reading and I thought this might hit the spot. I'm a big Jane Austen fan. I've read not just the completed six novels but her two unfinished ones and some of her juvenalia--and reread them. And it's not enough. As Mingle wrote in the afterword an "intense longing for more of Jane Austen is what compels the sequel writer and reader." Moreover I have a soft spot for Mary Bennet of Pride and Prejudice. Mary is the middle daughter left out of the closeness the older and younger pairs form with each other. Although a comic figure in Pride and Prejudice, Mary has none of the malice evident in other such characters as Lady Catherine de Bourgh or Mr. Collins. I was also disappointed to learn that Colleen McCullough's book centered on Mary, The Independence of Mary Bennet, was a work of revisionist history showing Elizabeth unhappy with an arrogant jerk of a Darcy. That's not what I want in a Jane Austen pastiche, and that predisposed me to pick up a book that I hoped would have a more congenial take.

Mind you, I've found it's a tricky genre. I despised Linda Berdoll's Mr Darcy Takes a Wife beyond the telling--I couldn't recognize the characters. For me Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen Mysteries tried too hard to reproduce Austen's style, only underlining Barron is no Austen. I enjoyed Carrie Bebris's Mr. & Mrs. Darcy Mysteries, which captures the personalities and voices of the characters without trying to imitate Austen's style. Mingle in the afterward wrote she knew she "could never try to write in the voice of Jane Austen" and it's part of why she chose to tell the story in first person in Mary's own voice. Mind you, I've seen modern authors create some really good period voices that aren't jarring in their homage: Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (despite finding the novel tedious) and Patrick O'Brian in his Aubrey-Maturin series, even Novik's Temeraire fantasy series are examples of authors whose period voices are pitch perfect, if not Austenesque. And Marie Dobbs in her completion of Sandition does a lovely job, even if she's more Heyer than Austen in quality. I never found Mingle convincing in that regard. The voice of Mary struck me as too contemporary at times, and I wasn't convinced I was inhabiting the Regency period. And there just wasn't any phrase, any line in the book I'd be tempted to underline or bookmark. And there was one scene in the book where I was a bit weirded out.

For all that, others less picky might enjoy the book. Mingle doesn't do a bad job at all at getting into Mary's head, making her self-aware enough that with maturity she's able to grow and change. It's a pleasant enough Regency Romance and Jane Austen pastiche--but the truth is I've found better Jane Austen fanfic on the internet, and I just plain enjoyed Bebris' mysteries more when it comes to Austenesque comfort reading.