Friday, January 6, 2012

Death Comes to Pemberley

P.D. James’s Death Comes to Pemberley suffers from overhype. Based on rave reviews and all the Top 10 lists the book appeared on, I was expecting nothing less than the reincarnation of Jane Austen herself. Of course, I set myself up for disappointment.

Death takes place several years after Austen’s Pride and Prejudice concludes. Darcy and Elizabeth are happily married, living a life of peace and satisfaction at Pemberley. That is, until Lydia Wickham, Elizabeth’s youngest sister, breaks that peace by appearing unexpectedly at their doorstep, declaring her husband has been murdered.

The book follows the case, and subsequent trial, and its effects on the residents of Pemberley. The mystery is interesting, although somewhat predictable, but James often gets bogged down in the legal procedures of 19th-century England. I often felt like I was reading a law textbook, not exactly my choice of pleasure reading.

I've never been a proponent of fan fiction, and I'm not sure why James, who has no need to piggyback on Austen's reputation, chose to write this sequel, particularly since the story could easily have been told without the aid of Austen's characters.  (That said, I was also surprised James paints Elizabeth's character, at times, in a rather unflattering, mercenary light.) 

Death does attempt to emulate Austen’s style, often dwelling on details and meandering through descriptions. What delights me in Austen’s novels, however, frustrates me in Death. If I want to read an Austen-esque novel, I will read an actual Austen novel. 

If you don’t expect a great read, Death is a satisfactory mystery. If you buy into all the hype, you’ll just be disappointed.

1 comment:

Kelly Robinson said...

P.D. James is a master. I'm surprised this doesn't seem to measure up. I think I'll have to judge for myself.