Matchmaking, misunderstandings, and making-up — along with merriment and mischef — are a small part of what sets this light-hearted re-imagining of Jane Austen’s timeless and much beloved Pride and Prejudice apart from the others of its kind. Lizzy Bennet is a young British woman possessed of an open heart, a keen intellect, and more than enough pride to be instantly recognizable. Her sister, Jane, is not only beautiful outside but inside as well, working tirelessly with any number of charitable organizations in an effort to make the world a better place.
While suffering through their mother’s latest party, celebrating Lizzy’s graduation from college, Lizzy is introduced to the two newest arrivals to their town: Charlie Bingly, a single, professional musician of both wealth and reputation, and his housemate Darcy Williams. Needless to say Mrs. Bennet has her heart set on her daughter Jane winning the attentions of rich and available Mr. Bingley.
When Jane and Bingly do finally meet it is, indeed, as their mother had hoped: love at first sight. For Lizzy, though, an out and proud lesbian, it’s his companion who catches her eye. For her it’s rivalry — or at least animosity — at first sight. Shallow as it may be, the sight of the woman at her door, tall, dark, and beautiful, makes Lizzy feel insecure of her own physical worth. Darcy seems to share this sentiment, saying of Lizzy:
“She’s decent enough, but nothing really sets her apart from anyone else. Average looks, intelligent but not spectacular mind […]”
From then on, Lizzy is determined to ignore Darcy, though she’s thrown into the other woman’s company again and again as Jane and Charlie start dating. Unfortunately, Charlie soon leaves for New York, leaving Jane behind and heartbroken. Lizzy can not stay to comfort her sister. She is moving to London with her best friend, Charlotte, to work at Rosings Publishing company. There she once again meets Darcy, and learns that her first impressions may not have been as spot-on as she’d thought.
Soon the two of them are… well, not quite dating. Certainly LIzzy isn’t ready to call it dating! Not when she’s still not quite sure about what she feels for Darcy, and how to deal with the knowledge that Darcy encouraged Charlie to break up with Jane.
The story of Pride and Prejudice is well-known. So many adaptations, reinterpretations, parodies, and loving homages fill movies, television, and books that it’s hard for any new variation to the well-worn story. (It’s also one of my favorite books, which means I was delighted for the chance to review this story.) To be honest… this story is at its best when it’s not so self-aware of being a re-imagining of a classic work. When Lizzy is being herself — rather than Elizabeth “Lizzy” Bennett — she becomes a whole other person. There are parts of this story that I just love, and characterizations that I truly appreciate, but then there are the painful parts where the author tries to remain true to the source material.
For example, the quoted bit above. If you count the words (and I did) Lizzy says only 18 in Darcy’s presence. She says hello, that it’s nice to meet them– as anyone might to a guest in their home– and later asks what Darcy’s job is. That’s it. And from that Darcy arrives at the opinion that she’s tolerable, but not tempting. Later, Darcy is talking about the sort of people who interest her, and begins a variation of the “every girl must be accomplished” speech. It’s painfully forced and rings untrue to the Darcy of this story, however much it suited Darcy FitzWilliams. But there are less than a handful of these examples, and so I can easily forgive them since the story moves past them fairly quickly.
George Wickam is, of course, a character in this book. For those that have never read P&P (which you really ought to do if you haven’t), he’s a scoundrel and a rake. In this book, his darker nature is brought more to the fore and he stays true to his original character while at the same time working so well in this story. I very much appreciated the work Grace Watson did with him.
Colin Collins — oh, Mr. Collins — and Charlotte Lucas have what is, I think, the second most adorable courtship in this book. Charlotte was never much developed in P&P, but in this book she becomes an honest and well-thought-out character. Colin suffers from one of those forced behaviors as he’s shoehorned into the role of a pompous, pretentious caricature, but once he’s given time to develop into a real person, I actually quite like him. This Colin and this Charlotte work so well together and their genuine divergence from Austen’s work… works.
Lizzy and Darcy, in this book, have some adult and very real moments that felt so human and genuine and so very in the spirit of Pride and Prejudice. When talking about George Wickam, Darcy is able to be more open and honest about her feelings and opinions of him. Austen’s characters were neither wholly good nor wholly evil, and too many adaptations miss that, making Darcy a knight in shining armor and Wickam a foul villain. Darcy isn’t a saint and George isn’t a devil; they’re both people, and this author understands that. There’s even a moment that I think works better in this story than in the original P&P where Lizzy explains Jane — her apparent superficiality, the distance she seemed to keep between herself and Charlie that led to Darcy thinking she was just using him — to Darcy. It’s a moment true to the characters, both of Jane and Lizzy, and it shows how much the author both loves and celebrates the original work and yet manages to find her own voice for her own story.
As much as I love all things Pride and Prejudice related, I do think the story would have worked just as well with original characters. Watson writes well, has a clean and easy style, and manages to write two convincing romances– and even gives us Jane and Charlie– with skill. Most of my criticisms are nitpicking, which only shows how good a book this is. With a good book the small things stand out; with a bad book there are too many to count them all. But there is one issue I had with this book that keeps it at a four rather than a higher rating: Lizzy’s family. Her mother — such a force in the original work — is barely present in this one. Her father is beyond useless. Both could be erased from the book and you wouldn’t notice the gap. Lizzy’s younger sisters — Mary, Kitty, and Lydia — have been turned into a pair of twin boys, Sander and Mark. I don’t know why they needed to be boys; their gender didn’t add anything in particular to the story. And with Mark being ace and the transgender character (no matter how well written and deftly handled his story was) felt a little like someone tossing the entire LGBTQ+ rainbow at us in an effort to make sure the book was acceptable. It’s a small thing, and I understand the urge to be inclusive… but it didn’t feel necessary to the story.
However, with all that said, I very much enjoyed this book, both for what it is– a retelling of the beloved Pride and Prejudice— and for being its own interesting and absorbing story. Lizzy and Darcy are adorable characters, and their flirtations, and their friendship, were so much fun to read.