After a rehash of the events of Pride and Prejudice we move on to our story. At Pemberley, the annual Lady Anne's Ball is being prepared for, when there is a commotion at the door; Lydia Wickham has arrived, uninvited and in hysterics, saying that her husband has been shot by Denny in the woods. A search party sets out in the darkness and finds a drunken Wickham crying over the body of Denny, and saying that he had killed his only friend. This could either mean that he feels responsible directly or indirectly, but it's taken as a confession, and the main body of the story deals with the investigation and court case. From this point of view, the story is quite interesting, as I didn't have much idea of the legal system then, and I am presuming that all these details were researched. It was also interesting to find out what really happened that night, as there is more to the story than at first is apparent.
However, I hadn't really come to this story from the point of view of somebody who loves P. D. James' stories, but as somebody who loves Miss Austen's, and from this point of view, the book is far less successful. The main issue I had is that the characters were so flat. For me, one of Austen's strengths are her characters, they are so alive that they almost leap off the page. This isn't the case here; Elizabeth is unrecognisable as the sparkling, vivacious woman we met in P&P, she is very bland. Darcy is much more fully realised, as the story deals with him much more. Much of the dialogue throughout the book is very flat also, there are whole pages of people recounting things, which makes sense in an investigation, but it's written in such a way that it's not very engaging to read!
We see more of all the Bennets, including Lydia, who is extremely rude and petulant towards Lizzy at all times - I don't believe that would be the case, Lydia wouldn't be stupid enough to not try and curry favour with her sister, and I also think Wickham would have encouraged her to be on as good terms as possible with both her rich sisters. We also know from P&P that Lydia visited her sister, but this Lydia wouldn't have wanted to.
Another aspect of behaviour that I thought was unlikely was the discussion between Darcy and Elizabeth at the end of the book where they talked about Georgiana's attempted elopement with Wickham, and Elizabeth's attraction to him. It strikes an odd note that they should be discussing this so many years down the line for the first time.
Although there is a apology from P. D. James to Miss Austen at the beginning of the book apologising for using her characters these are clearly empty words, because she criticises the events of Pride and Prejudice. This really annoyed me; as if James had a problem with P&P she should have chosen another book to base her story on. Firstly, she doesn't like how quickly Lizzy (or Lizzie, as James refers to her) and Darcy fell in love:
"If this were fiction, could even the most brilliant novelist continue to make credible so short a period in which pride had been subdued and prejudice overcome?"Also, apparently James believed that Lizzy married for money?!!!
"Would she (Elizabeth) herself have married Darcy had he been a penniless curate or a struggling attorney?"The cheek! Elizabeth was resolved to marry for love, but of course there was a practical element to marriage in that time. If there isn't enough money to support a family then she could not marry and Elizabeth knew that. However, she knew that Darcy was rich when she first refused him. I don't feel this sequel was done by somebody who was a fan of the book, which personally I feel is vitally important for a successful sequel.
There are also some things which don't quite marry up with the events of Pride and Prejudice, for example, Mr Darcy helps out Wickham with money while he's in prison and Mr Bennet makes some reference to Elizabeth of this not being the first time Darcy has helped out their family, not that he has full knowledge, but of course he had knowledge! When telling her father of Darcy's proposal, Lizzy told him of Darcy's generous nature and what he did for Lydia, and he replied that he would offer to pay Darcy back. However, she doesn't tell him in the '95 adaptation, and to be honest, I wondered if James had assumed it from that.
Also, there are multiple references to Wickham not being allowed to stay at the Bingleys' home. This is in direct contradiction of Pride and Prejudice where it is stated in reference to Lydia and Wickham that:
"... with the Bingleys they both of them frequently staid so long, that even Bingley's good-humour was overcome, and he proceeded so far as to talk of giving them a hint to be gone."There are references to characters from other Austen books, Emma and Persuasion. The Emma references seemed fine, if unnecessary, but the Persuasion ones didn't quite make sense to me - Wickham was working for Sir Walter Elliot but they had parted company as Miss Elizabeth Elliot didn't like how attracted her father was to Mrs Wickham - what danger would she have been to Sir Walter? Lydia was married, so it's not as though Sir Walter would marry her. Considering that in Persuasion Miss Elliot misses the fact that her father is attracted to Mrs Clay and he could have married her, I don't see this as likely.
So, all in all, although this isn't a badly written book, I was disappointed with it, which is why it took me ages to read! I still plan to watch the adaptation, as I am hopeful that the scriptwriters will be able to improve the characters.
I watched the adaptation when it was on over Christmas 2013, and I'll give you my thoughts on that next time.