Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, Retelling

Book Review: The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet by Colleen McCollough

The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet is essentially an elaborate piece of Jane Austen fanfiction that has a few bright spots, even though it often misses its mark.

Goodreads Rating: 2.93

My Rating: 3/5 Stars

Spoiler-free Summary:

Everyone knows the story of Elizabeth and Jane Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice.” But what about their sister Mary? At the conclusion of Jane Austen’s classic novel, Mary, bookish, awkward, and by all accounts, unmarriageable, is sentenced to a dull, provincial existence in the backwaters of Britain. Now, master storyteller Colleen McCullough rescues Mary from her dreary fate with “The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet,” a page-turning sequel set twenty years after Austen’s novel closes. The story begins as the neglected Bennet sister is released from the stultifying duty of caring for her insufferable mother. Though many would call a woman of Mary’s age a spinster, she has blossomed into a beauty to rival that of her famed sisters. Her violet eyes and perfect figure bewitch the eligible men in the neighborhood, but though her family urges her to marry, romance and frippery hold no attraction. Instead, she is determined to set off on an adventure of her own. Fired with zeal by the newspaper letters of the mysterious Argus, she resolves to publish a book about the plight of England’s poor. Plunging from one predicament into another, Mary finds herself stumbling closer to long-buried secrets, unanticipated dangers, and unlooked-for romance. Meanwhile, the other dearly loved characters of “Pride and Prejudice” fret about the missing Mary while they contend with difficulties of their own. Darcy’s political ambitions consume his ardor, and he bothers with Elizabeth only when the impropriety of her family seems to threaten his career. Lydia, wild and charming as ever, drinks and philanders her way into dire straits; Kitty, a young widow of means, occupies herself with gossip and shopping; and Jane, naive and trusting as ever, spends her days ministering to her crop of boys and her adoring, if not entirely faithful, husband. Yet, with the shadowy and mysterious figure of Darcy’s right-hand man, Ned Skinner, lurking at every corner, it is clear that all is not what it seems at idyllic Pemberley. As the many threads of McCullough’s masterful plot come together, shocking truths are revealed, love, both old and new, is tested, and all learn the value of true independence in a novel for every woman who has wanted to leave her mark on the world.

My Thoughts:

I have mixed feelings about this book. In fact, I stopped reading it numerous times and then had to will myself to go back to it. I debated on whether to give it 2 or 3 stars, but ended up choosing 3 because there were parts of it that I genuinely enjoyed.

From reading through the other reviews briefly, I gather that many people don’t like the direction that McCullough chose for the characters, especially the direction of Lizzie and Darcy’s marriage. I myself didn’t mind, because basically anything can happen in twenty years–this novel is just one incarnation.

The plot of Mary’s quest/abduction was trying for me. It wasn’t fleshed out enough for my taste, and there were too many things that just fell into place.

I actually enjoyed the conversations between the characters the most–I particularly liked the relationship between Darcy and Ned. It allowed readers to see an intimate side of Darcy for once.

I have to say McCullough’s characterization of Lydia also thoroughly amused me.

To me this book is an elaborate piece of “fanfiction” and if you go into with that mindset, I think you will find some things that will genuinely make you smile, and perhaps even laugh out loud. But, if that’s not your style, then it will probably grate your nerves.

Let me know what you think if you decide to give it a try.

Happy Reading! 🙂

Liss

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