From Publishers Weekly
McCullough's (The Thorn Birds
) sequel to Pride and Prejudice
vaults the characters of the original into a ridiculously bizarre world, spinning dizzily among plot lines until it finally crashes to a close. The novel begins 20 years after Austens classic ends, with Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy trapped in a passionless marriage, Jane a spineless baby machine, Lydia an alcoholic tramp, Kitty a cheerfully vapid widow and Mary a naïve feminist and social crusader. Shrewish Mrs. Bennet's death frees Mary from her caretaker duties, and, inspired by the writings of a crusading journalist, Mary sets off to document the plight of Englands poor. Along the way, she is abused, robbed and imprisoned by the prophet of a cave-dwelling cult. Darcy is the books villain, and he busies himself with hushing up the Bennet clans improprieties in service of his political career. His dirty work is carried out by Ned Skinner, whose odd devotion to Darcy drives his exploits, the nastiest of which involves murder. McCullough lacks Austen's gently reproving good humor, making the family's adventures into a mannered spaghetti western with a tacked-on, albeit Austenesque, happy ending. (Jan.)
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There are some beloved literary classics that should never be messed with, and some people would venture to say Pride and Prejudice is definitely one of them. Of course, given the current craze for all things Austen, there have been a host of sequels, spin-offs, and updated versions of all five of the Austen novels. One would hope that in the seasoned hands of historical-fiction master McCullough the tale of the middle Bennet sister would be a cut above most pale imitations, but the narrative falters on the very premise the author is trying to cash in on. In and of itself, the feminist rebellion of a middle-aged spinster who has been relegated to the sidelines by both circumstances and her more comely sisters might have been an adventure worth taking if McCullough had not appended it to one of the most cherished and passionate love stories of all time. It is difficult to become involved in Mary’s plight when one is so distracted by familiar characters like Elizabeth and Darcy, who bear little or no resemblance—beyond their names and family connections—to Austen’s original creations. Considering the reputations of both Austen and McCullough, expect a reasonable demand for this disappointing offshoot. --Margaret Flanagan