Customer Review

359 of 388 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for purist Austen fans or demanding readers of PD James: 3.5 stars, December 6, 2011
This review is from: Death Comes to Pemberley (Hardcover)
What is most disappointing about this book is what it doesn't manage to accomplish. Not too surprisingly, like all the modern efforts to read sequels and other riffs on the characters in Austen novels (and Pride & Prejudice in particular), PD James fails to capture the unique tone and focus of the original, much less master the detailed character studies Austen provides her readers. More unexpected is the fact that although this pen is being wielded by PD James, author of the meticulously-crafted series of mysteries featuring Adam Dalgliesh, this doesn't succeed in being a a compelling mystery. Indeed the "whodunnit" -- who is responsible for the death of the man found in the woodlands surrounding Pemberley? -- feels almost perfunctory. PD James writes of her characters witnessing the eventual trial that is the climax of the book that they are all anxious and distraught. Unfortunately, she never managed to convey that to the reader, or create a corresponding sense of unease and tension in this particular reader.

That's not to say that this is a bad book, if the reader is able to forget its illustrious parentage. It's entertaining and well-written; James has managed to avoid some of the silliest missteps of many Austen imitators, such as using the word "chuse" for "choose", or having her characters do things that are utterly out of the spirit of the times about which she is writing. And there are some interesting or intriguing glimpses back at P&P (although those familiar with the plot may find the first dozen or so pages, in which James revisits the events of that iconic novel, a bit tiring), and at Austen characters from other novels, such as Persuasion. Above all, it's a fun novel aimed at those more familiar with P&P in the BBC series featuring Colin Firth as Darcy, rather than those who re-read Austen herself obsessively. For sheer entertainment, I'd round this up to 4 stars from the 3.5 stars I'm giving it.

The problem is that this is intended to be a mystery -- or rather, a single big mystery revolving around the culprit in the murder, that is supposed to be surrounded by several smaller and more domestic mysteries, such as which suitor Georgiana Darcy will prefer; why did Colonel Fitzwilliam embark on a late night ride on the night in question; what secrets are some of Pemberley's servitors concealing? But none of these is ever explored in enough depth in this novel to really grab my curiosity or hold my attention. We don't see into Georgiana's view of events -- although that would have been an interesting way indeed to explore the story. Indeed, the point of view skips from Darcy to Elizabeth, and back, and over to a background narrator, but without really revealing enough insight into any of the characters to make them spring to life on the page.

I'm not sorry I read this novel, and it's certainly a vast improvement on the many efforts to churn out Austen sequels in the publishing world today. (I'm waiting for the local book superstore to devote an entire row of shelves to this genre...) But while I was expecting an intelligent mystery, if not a book penned by a reincarnation of Austen, I got fluff. To some extent, it's a victim of my own high expectations -- but then, why not have high expectations when one of your favorite authors, who has been reliably delivering richly-detailed character portrayals in her well-written and complex mysteries, decides to revisit Pemberley and the Darcys? There will be insatiable Austenmaniacs who will adore this, I'm sure, but I think I may spend my own Christmas revisiting the original Pride & Prejudice and reminding myself how intriguing these characters were in reality. Maybe it's a mistake to mess with perfection?
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Comments

Tracked by 4 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 19 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 12, 2011 4:14:33 PM PST
Teleri says:
Thank you for your detailed and thoughtful review. I feared it would be as you describe, although, when I heard P.D.James interviewed on NPR, she sounded very sensitive to the literary difficulties of reproducing P & P characters. But the two genres don't mix, and there is no second Austen. Modern writers should "tend their own gardens," and not steal from past writers who are in no position to object or bring a lawsuit. It's robbery, really, or excessive love leading to perverse identification with the beloved (which is also another genre). I will not read this book.

Posted on Dec 19, 2011 7:19:26 PM PST
You are a very good writer, and I enjoyed reading your review. It's disappointing to know that this isn't a good P.D. James novel. I have loved reading James's books through the year, and I admire knowing that at 91 years old, she is still writing books. Let's hope she's still got some good books left in her -- I certainly miss the Dalgliesh novels. But I still admire her...

Posted on Dec 22, 2011 4:58:20 PM PST
K. Harter says:
I've often read Austen is her favorite author and no doubt at 91 she wrote this for herself. But as her last two books were arguably her best I was hoping for another Dalgliesh mystery before the inevitable happens. Still, I am an Austen fan and have read all PD James' books and I will read this. I'm thankful for all the thoughtful and well-written reviews so I won't be disappointed but enjoy it for what it is.

Posted on Dec 23, 2011 12:57:18 PM PST
S. McGee says:
Thanks for all the comments. It's amazing & impressive that at 91, PD James is still writing and still publishing such relatively high-caliber books; I only hope I'm half as lucky as she is in that respect. If anyone has earned the right to indulge in a passion for Austen sequels, she has -- I only wish I had enjoyed it more. I'm keeping fingers and toes crossed that she has another Dalgliesh book in the offing but suspect that may not happen. Still, I suppose I should consider myself lucky to have as many as I do, and hunker down to re-read them instead!

Posted on Dec 29, 2011 11:30:10 PM PST
ED Denson says:
Sadly, you are right.

Posted on Dec 30, 2011 2:46:12 PM PST
Wayfarer says:
I agree with your well-written review. I was disappointed right away by James' rather stolid manner of retelling a story
which in Jane Austen's original is filled with delight and verve. I, too, have always enjoyed James' novels, but I must say that
her earlier novels are my favorites. The later ones are humorless (though humor has never been James' forte), and
her characterizations over-dense. I, too, listened to a BBC program in which James' humbly begs Austen's pardon, but
later, another critic speaking of what it means to "revive" or "recreate" great or good novels, says that such imitations
or continuations are always a second kind of creation, not a first.

Posted on Jan 15, 2012 2:44:44 PM PST
Hallie says:
I just finished this book and felt *exactly* this way about it--though you put my frustrations more eloquently. Wish I'd read this before!

Posted on Jan 20, 2012 7:53:22 PM PST
Avid Reader says:
I agree very much with this review. The book was not very compelling, the mystery was extremely dry and slow. And the most disappointing part was the last chapter when Darcy and Elizabeth finally have a chance to digest the happenings of the previous months' mystery and discuss together, some of the dialogue and narrative is ripped straight from the last chapter of P&P, if not completely verbatim, in sentiment, tone and feeling. I didn't feel like I learned anything knew about the characters, nor was there any growth beyond the original. And the author seemed very forgiving and tolerant of Wickham throughout the novel. At the end, I felt as if I had completely wasted my time reading this. It's the first PD James I had ever read, and it will probably be my last.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 22, 2012 11:04:34 AM PST
Meotzi says:
Please do not judge her work by this thing. I have not read this one and probably will not but I have read many of the Dalgleish series and some of the dystopian fiction and they have all been excellent and engrossing reads.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 24, 2012 3:15:58 PM PST
S. McGee says:
Avid Reader, I agree with Meotzi -- this really isn't representative of James's work at all... Now, her mysteries featuring Adam Dalgliesh may also not be to your taste, but they are very different kinds of books. I think this one was a not-so-successful experiment.
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