Monday, December 26, 2011

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

P.D. James takes readers back into the world of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice six years after their marriage. It's evident that James admires Austen's story, and knows it well. Unfortunately, she can retell their story, and create a slight mystery, but she fails to capture the essence of Elizabeth and Darcy in Death Comes to Pemberley.

It’s 1803, the day before Lady Anne’s ball at Pemberley, named after Darcy’s mother. Darcy and Elizabeth have two sons, and have settled in comfortably with their life. Elizabeth is only troubled by the future of Darcy’s sister, Georgiana. Will she marry Darcy’s long-time friend, Colonel Fitzwilliam, or a lawyer acquaintance of the Bingley’s, Henry Alveston? Elizabeth is a little concerned that Darcy’s friendship will push Georgiana into the wrong relationship.

The evening before the ball, the guests at Pemberley have settled in when  a coach tears into the estate bearing Elizabeth’s younger sister, Lydia Wickham, who tumbles out howling that her husband had been murdered. It’s a claim that sends Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mr. Alveston into the northern woodland, looking for two men, one a possible killer. Once again, the Wickhams have brought trouble to the world of Elizabeth and Darcy.

James did an excellent job summarizing Pride and Prejudice in the prologue, and a couple other times in the course of the book. I’m no expert on Austen’s book, but I never saw the personalities that readers loved. Elizabeth and Darcy lacked life and spirit in this book. In fact, Darcy came across as spineless, allowing Colonel Fitzwilliam to dictate all the actions in the hunt for Wickham, and the following events. Elizabeth had no spirit. She seemed to be a dutiful, appropriate wife, with little to recommend her as an interesting character.

The mystery itself also seemed to be missing. Who was the killer? Although there was an investigation and subsequent trial, the actual unraveling of the mystery was a disappointment.

The combination of P.D. James and Austen’s masterpiece should have been a delight. Death Comes to Pemberley was not exceptional, neither as a follow-up to Pride and Prejudice nor as a mystery.

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James. Faber and Faber. ©2011. ISBN 9780571283576 (hardcover), 310p.

NOTE: I read the British edition of this book. The American edition is from Knopf. ISBN 9780307959850.

FTC Full Disclosure – I bought my copy of the book


Rosemary said...

Lesa, I have actually stopped half way through this book because it is failing to hold my attention. That may be partly due to all the other things I have to do at the moment, but I agree with everything you say - so far, Elizabeth is completely wet and so is Darcy - and I also don't like the way we are constantly told what both of them are thinking. I get rattled on my writing course when we are constantly told to 'show not tell' - I do think you can have too much of this - but in the case of Pemberley there is far too much telling. I'll try to finish it, but I wouldn't recommend it.

I got "Let's Kill Uncle' as one of my Christmas presents, so i am looking forward to reading that. And I got a Kindle! When they first came out I didn't think I would like them, but so many of my similar aged (!) friends love theirs that I am now looking forward to playing with it - especially now I realise how many books you can get for nothing - apparently Dickens' entire works are available.

Got to stop now and attend to Siamese needs/wants.

Hope you are having a good holiday,


Lesa said...

Rosemary, I don't blame you for stopping. I really wanted to see what happened, so I finished. But, it was a disappointment.

My cats are all fed, and they're back in bed, except for Josh, who is all cuddled up on my lap.

Too many other books out there to worry about finishing this one. I finished, and I've moved on to the next one already.

Have a good day, Rosemary.

Bev Stephans said...

I was afraid this would happen. I love P.D. James, but have never been too fond of Jane Austen. I'm so glad you wrote a review and saved me from buying Ms. James latest book.

Lesa said...


I know another reviewer I respect, Janet Rudolph, who felt the same way. Don't bother buying it.

Susan Bennett said...

I have to confess I've never been tempted to read any of these post Austen - tributes? fan fiction? is that what they're called - treatments of Pride & Prejudice.

Rosemary, it's interesting how many well-known published writers can get away with breaking the cardinal sin of telling over showing where emerging writers are rejected for the same reason. Once a writer has a market, it's disheartening how very little editing their work is subjected to.

Susan said...

I am really curious to read Death Comes to Pemberley so I read your review, and it sounds like it's not nearly as good as the 'main' reviewers have said. I picked it up to look at in the store, and was thinking of buying it. I think I won't, and wait to get it out of the library to read. I love P&P, so I'm curious if James did catch their characters (it sounds like she didn't). I'm surprised in a way the James did this. I am with one of your reviewers, I don't like all the pastiches and add-on books continuing the story of Austen's characters. Most of them aren't original and don't do anything to deepen the characters either. Austen did such a wonderful job!

Thanks for the review, Lesa.

Rosemary said...

Susan B, I agree. There are other writers whose early works I have loved, only to be disappointed with the later ones. In some cases (presumably the successful but not mega-famous ones) it must be lazy editing, and in others - like PD James - I wonder if it is also publishers not wanting to upset them? My daughter absolutely loves Jilly Cooper, and I too was devoted to her early books - 'Harriet', 'Imogen', etc - but I tried to read 'Wicked' the great thick one she wrote about schools, and couldn't even get past the first chapter.

Lesa said...

It's interesting to see that people will or will not read tributes. I seldom read the different Sherlock Holmes books, but I read Anthony Horowitz' The House of Silk because it was authorized. That one was worth it. He captured the voice of Doyle, or I should say, of Dr. Watson, perfectly.

And, I agree, Rosemary. I think sometimes, as an author gets "bigger," editors don't want to upset the goose that lays the golden eggs.