*I received a free ARC of this book, with thanks to the author, Pan Macmillan and NetGalley. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Blurb: For fans of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Janice Hadlow’s The Other Bennet Sister tells Mary’s story…
‘It is a sad fact of life that if a young woman is unlucky enough to come into the world without expectations, she had better do all she can to ensure she is born beautiful. To be handsome and poor is misfortune enough; but to be both plain and penniless is a hard fate indeed.’
In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mary is the middle of the five Bennet girls and the plainest of them all, so what hope does she have? Prim and pious, with no redeeming features, she is unloved and seemingly unlovable.
The Other Bennet Sister, though, shows another side to Mary. An introvert in a family of extroverts; a constant disappointment to her mother who values beauty above all else; fearful of her father’s sharp tongue; with little in common with her siblings – is it any wonder she turns to books for both company and guidance? And, if she finds her life lonely or lacking, that she determines to try harder at the one thing she can be: right.
One by one, her sisters marry – Jane and Lizzy for love; Lydia for some semblance of respectability – but Mary, it seems, is destined to remain single and live out her life at Longbourn, at least until her father dies and the house is bequeathed to the reviled Mr Collins.
But when that fateful day finally comes, she slowly discovers that perhaps there is hope for her, after all.
Simultaneously a wonderfully warm homage to Jane Austen and a delightful new story in its own right, Janice Hadlow’s The Other Bennet Sister is, at its heart, a life-affirming tale of a young woman finding her place in the world. Witty and uplifting, it will make you feel – and cheer – for Mary as you never have before.
I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Mary Bennet. She is bookish, unsociable and fails to find enjoyment in discussions about marriage and clothing… we have a lot in common!
For that reason I was intrigued to pick up this book, which is not exactly a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, but picks up the same characters and events from Mary’s perspective and then runs further with them.
We start with Mary’s childhood and then a quick skip through the events of Jane Austen’s original novel before moving ahead to a future where Elizabeth, Jane, Lydia and Kitty are all safely married off and reproducing in domestic bliss. In the first part of the story, the earlier years, the book became quite hard to read in places due to Mary’s excessive self-loathing and her fervent failed attempts to ‘improve’ herself. Once we had cleared the known territory and branched out into the unknown future, however, Mary came into her own, gradually beginning to reformulate the ideas she grew up with and use her very good brain to think for herself.
Her journey of discovery comes cleverly via a tour of the state of matrimony, via intimate observations of Mr and Mrs Bingley, Darcy, Collins, Gardiner and of course her own parents, Mr and Mrs Bennet. Mary gets plenty of opportunities to witness the ups and downs of married life (I do wonder what she would have made of the Wickhams!), and come to her own conclusions about the pursuit of happiness within that field. Finally she gets the chance to forge her own romantic destiny as not one but three suitors hove in and out of her horizons. The question is whether she has learnt enough – from books and from experience – to make the right choices for her very individual heart and mind.
Janice Hadlow captures Austen’s writing style very neatly, and in both that respect, and the faithfulness to original events, this book forms a lovely homage to the beloved classic. That said, it is also a love story in its own right, and provoked far stronger emotions in me than Austen’s mannered romantic comedies ever did. I burned with outrage, pity and embarrassment for poor Mary; felt sadly sympathetic to her trials, and a very satisfied relief when she finally began to like herself and admit she deserved her own happily ever after. Because, whether universally acknowledged or not, with or without the wedding bells, who wouldn’t want one of those?
They would never understand how she felt. How could they? Their beauty was as much a part of them as an arm or a leg. It was impossible for them to imagine life without it. Under its protection, they would leap and spring and dance into their future; she, on the other hand, would trudge stolidly forward, placing one foot in front of the other without joy or grace. She had learned from Mrs Bennet that without beauty, no real and lasting happiness was attainable; and it never occurred to her to question what she’d been taught.
– Janice Hadlow, The Other Bennet Sister
You can follow Janice Hadlow on Goodreads here, and The Other Bennet Sister is available on Amazon right now!