Mary B: An Untold Story of Pride and Prejudice by Katherine J. Chen ~ 336 pages ~ published 7/24/18 by Random House
The overlooked middle sister in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice casts off her prim exterior and takes center stage in this fresh retelling of the classic novel.
I will tell you the story of how I knew myself to be plain and therefore devoid of the one virtue which it behooves every woman to have.
What is to be done with Mary Bennet? She possesses neither the beauty of her eldest sister, Jane, nor the high-spirited charm of Lizzy. Even compared to her frivolous younger siblings, Kitty and Lydia, Mary knows she is lacking in the ways that matter for single, not-so-well-to-do women in nineteenth-century England who must secure their futures through the finding of a husband. As her sisters wed, one by one, Mary pictures herself growing old, a spinster with no estate to run or children to mind, dependent on the charity of others. At least she has the silent rebellion and secret pleasures of reading and writing to keep her company.
But even her fictional creations are no match for the scandal, tragedy, and romance that eventually visit Mary’s own life. In Mary B, readers are transported beyond the center of the ballroom to discover that wallflowers are sometimes the most intriguing guests at the party. Beneath Mary’s plain appearance and bookish demeanor simmers an inner life brimming with passion, humor, and imagination–and a voice that demands to be heard.
Set before, during, and after the events of Pride and Prejudice,Katherine J. Chen’s vividly original debut novel pays homage to a beloved classic while envisioning a life that is difficult to achieve in any era: that of a truly independent woman.
What I Thought:
*I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.*
I have always been a huge fan of Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice has long been my favorite of Austen’s works, so when I saw this title on NetGalley, I was rather excited to dive into it. I generally really like retellings of classic stories from one of the side character’s perspectives. Getting to hear from Mary Bennet seemed like it would be an interesting and entertaining take on one of my favorite novels.
I will say that, being that this is Chen’s first novel, I felt that it was very well written. I felt like she attempted, and achieved, writing in a similar style to Austen. This definitely helped me to feel re-immersed into the world of the Bennet family. I was thoroughly entertained by the entire novel, and was able to finish it in speedy fashion, which is generally a good sign in a novel.
I was a fan of the first section of the book, which deals with the part of the original novel where Mr. Collins comes to visit Longbourn. It has been a long held theory amongst ‘Janeites’ that Mary, umm, shall we say, ‘had a thing’ for Mr. Collins, and Chen thoroughly explores this possibility. I was having such a good time with the novel during the first part of the book because I felt like I had been dropped right back into this world that I loved, and was seeing it from a different perspective.
After this first part of the novel is where my problem with the story set in. The remainder of the book takes place after Jane and Elizabeth are each married off to Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy, respectively. Mary goes to Pemberley to stay with Lizzie and Darcy for several months…and here is where things start to go awry.
I am all for having a creative idea for how things might have turned out for these characters after Pride and Prejudice ended, but not to the detriment of the characters themselves. I felt that Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Georgiana Darcy, and even Mary Bennet were portrayed in such a way that they would never have actually behaved, given the very fully fleshed-out characters that Austen wrote in her original story. This bothered me immensely, and had me crying out, “They would never do that!!” over and over again. Taking well-loved characters and having them behave completely contrary to how they ever have behaved in the past was just not a great move, in my opinion.
Since these extreme character choices affected my view of the greater portion of the novel, it left me feeling disappointed and dissatisfied. This book had such potential to be a really great story, given that it was very well written and had a great opening section. However, it ended up falling flat for me.
I gave Mary B 3 STARS. It was well written and had a strong opening section, but the decision to make a complete departure from how the original characters would behave was highly frustrating for me.
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Have you read this book? Have you read any other Pride and Prejudice retellings? What is your opinion of them? Let me know down in the comments!
Love and happy reading,