My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Original Publication Year: 2013
Genre(s): Historical Fiction
Format: Paperback from Library
Narrated by: NA
I make no secret that I am a fan of published Jane Austen fan fiction because that is what all the re-tellings or continuations written by modern authors essentially are. I have yet to meet one that really lived up to the source material but I love Austen’s characters and settings and I am obviously not enough of an Austen purist to be offended by all the little things that make these tribute stories to fall short of the originals. I especially like stories that focus on another character within one of Jane Austen’s creations, which is the category this book falls into.
It especially caught my eye because I’ve always been intrigued by the middle Bennet sister. Mary is almost certainly the most unloved of the Bennet sisters. Lydia and Kitty may be silly but they have spirit while Mary is dull, priggish and socially awkward. She is also the isolated sister sandwiched in between two pairs of sisters who are close in age and as friends. In short, I feel bad for her and am curious how her life eventually turned out.
The Pursuit of Mary Bennet begins a few years post Pride and Prejudice. Both Lizzie and Jane have been happily married a few years and have children. Lydia and Wickham are also still together though less happily and the scandalous dissolution of their marriage plays a large role in the plot. Mary has mostly grown out of her prim and moralistic ways but she is still not the most socially minded of young ladies. She’d rather take long walks and read than attend balls or socialize. Years of being treated as the least charming and attractive sister and an assumption that she will never marry have weighed heavily on her. It is assumed that she will play nursemaid to her sister’s children before than retiring to care for her aging parents. She is understandably resentful of this plan and wants something different from her life but isn’t sure what. Marriage she doesn't even think is an option.
Enter Henry Walsh, a friend of Jane and Bingley’s who seems to find Mary’s more serious and intellectual demeanor appealing. However he has a secret and Mary has been too used to being disregarded and misused to really accept any interest or kindness from him. To complicate matters Lydia has showed up at Longbourn pregnant and having left Wickham. When the baby is born, Lydia shows little interest in caring for it and Mary must step in, at first resentfully but then perhaps a little too enthusiastically.
In general the premise of the book worked well even if it is perhaps it perhaps a tad too sensational for an Austen novel. It kept my interest and I was invested in the developing romance between Mary and Henry Walsh. I also liked her portrayal of Mary who was still recognizable as the middle, less charming sister but had shed some of the more unlikeable traits that had been the result of immaturity. It was easy to see the Mary portrayed, as an older wiser version of the character from Pride and Prejudice. After all she has had the lesson not only of her sister Lydia’s folly but also of the happy outcomes for Lizzie and Jane.
I was less content with Lydia and Kitty’s portrayal which seemed a bit too exaggerated. Not that Austen is averse to creating over the top characters but Kitty in particular is initially appallingly selfish, stupid and downright mean to Mary. It wasn’t enough of an issue to dim my enjoyment of the book however. What was big enough to dim my enjoyment a bit was the drama Mingle decided to use to prompt Mary’s further growth as a character. Basically she has Mary become obsessed with Lydia’s baby to the extent that she wants to take the baby away from Lydia and adopt her as her own. I found it a little crazy and decidedly odd, to be frank. It definitely broke my feelings of empathy with the character. This may just be a me thing though as I’m not a big kid person myself so really couldn’t relate. I just felt like Mingle took it a little too far and crossed a line into crazy town. For example at one point, Mary lets the baby suckle on her breast. It was too much for me.
In the end it averaged out okay though. I enjoyed seeing a more mature Mary and also seeing her find her happiness.
FINAL VERDICT: Definitely not a book for Austen purists but an enjoyable enough read for folks curious about Mary Bennet’s future after P&P. 3 out of 5 stars. ✪✪✪