Friday, July 11, 2014

Book Review: The Pursuit of Mary Bennet by Pamela Mingle



     Mary Bennet, sufferer of Middle Child Syndrome, object of ridicule to family and strangers alike, has grown up. Thanks to her father giving her greater access to his library, Mary has become a more sensible woman and gained self-awareness, while maintaining a rather blunt and straightforward personality. Still, to everyone she is just the “plain” Bennet daughter, and despite her anger she has resigned herself to being shuffled from house to house, dependent upon her wealthier relatives.

     Then a very pregnant Lydia comes sweeping in with the blithe announcement that she and Wickham are separated due to some question of fidelity. Mary and Kitty are hustled away to Jane’s house before news of the scandal reaches neighbors’ ears, and there Mary meets Henry Walsh, who starts paying her attentions that she can’t believe are truthful. As neighbors begin prying and more information comes out about Lydia’s situation, Mary must make several hard decisions about her future.

     This was actually a rather compulsive read. I always felt a bit sorry for Mary, as she seemed like she really just wanted her parents’ approval (particularly her father’s), and without guidance stumbled onto her rather silly way of behaving. Also, I could completely relate to being a socially awkward bookworm, though I hoped I was never quite that clueless. (Then again, a lot of things tend to go over my head so…who knows? If I ever try to sing, stop me before it’s too late.) While Jane Austen gave us a fairly happy ending for Mary in one of her letters (she eventually married Uncle Philip’s clerk, who was proud of his accomplished wife), it was delightful to see Mary evolve into an intelligent and responsible young woman.

     In particular, the love story itself isn’t what brings this about, but the subplot involving Lydia’s new daughter. Lydia, suffering from post-partum depression, is listless and withdrawn, and Mary steps up to help the new baby. This is where we see her truly blossom, and the bittersweet way this turns out is surprising and touching.

     Mingle didn’t try to be Jane Austen, but still managed to be true to the characters and the spirit of the novels. This is definitely one of the better sequels out there, and well worth reading.

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