Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Death Comes to Pemberley

Death Comes to Pemberley
by P.D. James

Publisher's Blurb:
In their six years of marriage, Elizabeth and Darcy have forged a peaceful, happy life for their family at Pemberley, Darcy’s impressive estate. Her father is a regular visitor; her sister Jane and her husband, Bingley, live nearby; the marriage prospects for Darcy’s sister, Georgiana, are favorable. And preparations for their annual autumn ball are proceeding apace. But on the eve of the ball, chaos descends. Lydia Wickham, Elizabeth’s disgraced sister who, with her husband, has been barred from the estate, arrives in a hysterical state—shrieking that Wickham has been murdered.  Plunged into frightening mystery and a lurid murder trial, the lives of Pemberley’s owners and servants alike may never be the same.

My Reaction (with SPOILERS): 
(This was a "shared read" with Donald, so no detailed notes.)

I like Pride and Prejudice, and I also like mysteries (though this was my first experience reading P.D. James), so there was every reason to hope that this would be a good read.  Unfortunately, it fell far short of expectations.  There were occasional amusing moments, but they were few and far between-- and mostly relied upon retelling of scenes from P&P.  I also found the mystery element  to be somehow lacking.  Donald successfully predicted the murderer-- but when the confession was read, I simply couldn't believe that was all there was to it.  So boring!  What a disappointment!

--  My chief complaint?  Far, far too much rehashing of the same information.  There's often a certain degree of that in mysteries, it seems, but this was among the worst offenders I've yet to read.  Attention mystery authors: It's deadly dull to read the same "evidence" repeatedly.  If there's nothing significant to add-- if there's no new twist or spin to put on it-- please refrain from the ol' copy and paste. 

--  Donald commented at one point that Darcy was too perfect/had no human flaws.  Ha!  I felt much the same about Elizabeth.  Neither of them felt especially real or interesting.  Mere cardboard cut-outs!  I know it was a different time, with different standards, but they seemed to put far too much personal importance on the outcome of the trial-- not so much for Wickham's or Lydia's sakes than because of the reflected "smirch" upon Pemberley!  (Ugh.  Pemberley.  Look, I like the place as much as the next reader, but the Pemberley-idolatry in this book was a bit much.)

--  Of course, Wickham continues to be a disgusting pig.  And Lydia... I've never liked Lydia (and I don't imagine many readers do), but though she's a thoughtless, vain, selfish little tart of a woman, I do give her enough credit to believe that she would genuinely care about her husband (in her way), and I'm angry at Wickham for cheating on her.  I suppose it's not out of character for him to do so, but still... It makes me mad. 

-- The last part of the book had me mentally gagging, at times.  I came away with the impression that the author wanted to address (and explain) certain aspects of various characters' behavior in P&P-- things that apparently didn't ring true for her.

One of them-- yes, I could agree with.  That would be the interesting idea that Wickham and Mrs. Younge are half-siblings.  It's been a while since I read the original book, but from what I can remember, it does seem a little strange that Mrs. Younge would be so willing to "put herself out" for Wickham's sake.  Why risk her position as "companion" just to help Wickham further his plans for elopement with Georgiana?  I assume she was to be compensated by Wickham-- but the suggestion that they might have been related is an interesting explanation.  (The only thing I don't like about it is that Wickham's father would've been a cad, in that case, and I prefer to believe that Darcy's family's high regard for him was deserved.) 

The other explanations?  The only one I can still remember is the "explaining away" of Darcy's rudeness to Elizabeth in P&P-- his first proposal and his letter after her refusal.  The desperate linking of it to his great-grandfather's reclusive lifestyle-- and the insistence that Darcy must Do His Duty for Pemberley.  So you see, dear Reader, Darcy was kind of justified.  Now we finally know why he is as he is-- or was as he was, since he's reformed, now.  He is now truly Perfect with a capital P.  ...Uh, no.  Darcy behaved badly because he was proud.  I don't need to know why; he just was.  He's a human being with flaws-- just as Elizabeth was prejudiced against him because she, too, is imperfect.  That's what makes the book wonderful!  The humor-- the fun-poking-- the perfect matching of two imperfect characters.  It's the name of the book, for goodness' sake!

Also, why are Elizabeth and Darcy still talking about these things (the engagement and refusal, etc.) all these years later, as though in the years they've been married, they've never had the chance or inclination to talk it all to death, numerous times over?  It's odd.  Elizabeth would already know all these things.  Seriously, if I were Elizabeth in that scene, I'd have been rolling my eyes-- possibly wondering if Darcy is losing his marbles (since we now know there's an "eccentric" streak in the family)-- and biting my tongue to keep from interrupting him and steering the conversation to something a little fresher.

--  I have had to go back and fix this whole blog post, because I kept calling Wickham "Willoughby".  Oops.  (g)

--  I don't consider myself a Jane Austen purist, but it has to be said that Pride and Prejudice is a hundred times more amusing and pleasant reading than this book.  However, I'll probably eventually try something else by P.D. James, because I understand that this is not her best effort.