What would happen if you moved Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice to 21st century Pakistan? You would get Soniah Kamal’s Unmarriageable, which I got the opportunity to read thanks to NetGalley.
Reading Unmarriageable is not about the story. If you’ve read Pride and Prejudice, you already know the story – a man and a woman from different classes meet and thanks to their ingrained prejudices, take an instant dislike to each other, a dislike she maintains as he falls grudgingly in love with her. That story will always be great, it is the execution that often fails. Unmarriageable is not a particularly great adaptation of Pride and Prejudice – Alys is no Elizabeth Bennett, Mrs. Binat is even more annoying than Mrs. Bennett, some of the dialogue is just awkward, and the writing tends to be repetitive. Instead, for me, the joy of reading Kamal’s interpretation was in learning about Pakistani culture about which I’ll admit I was totally ignorant.
Chick-Lit, which is what this novel and its Austen ancestor is, often gets a bad wrap but, while it is important to learn about the history and the hardships around the world, I think it is equally important to learn about the ordinary, everyday lives that show us not only the cultural differences but how we are alike and Chick-Lit whether it is set in the US, the UK or Pakistan, does that.
If like me, you enjoy a good Pride and Prejudice update, Shannon Hale’sAustenland and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible are two of my favorites. Austenland is a fun romp through a vacation experience that places the Austen-obsessed protagonist into Austen’s world with the promise of a happy ending straight out of one of Jane’s novels while Eligible, part of The Austen Project is truly a modernization of Pride and Prejudice.
The original Austenland novel was a light, fun romance – my fantasy put down to paper. With Midnight in Austenland, Hale attempted to add a bit more weight with a genuine murder mystery set in this make-believe world. At times it worked well as an homage not just to the novels of Jane Austen – particularly Northanger Abbey – but also to the mysteries of Agatha Christie, of which Charlotte is so fond. Other times Charlotte’s wishy-washy nature and repetitious inner dialogue. By the time I got halfway through, every time I saw the words “Inner Thoughts”, I wanted to scream. These little aggravations and the mind-boggling explanation of the motive for murder took away from the romance, which is the real reason I read these books.
If you enjoy Jane Austen fanfiction type novels, I recommend reading Austenland, which is light and sometimes silly but so much fun to read. If it’s the gothic mystery/romance you love, read Jane Austen’sNorthanger Abbey, which I love for its sense of humor
I discovered Teri Wilson’s Unleashing Mr. Darcy after it was turned into a movie for the Hallmark Channel and since it was made into a Hallmark movie, I was not expecting the book to be as steamy as it was. That’s not a complaint; there are plenty of those coming. Unleashing Mr. Darcy is yet another modern take on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – this one set in the world of dog shows. I’m almost positive going that these retellings will only disappoint me but my love for Austen’s original masterpiece keeps me going back for more. Unleashing Mr. Darcy was not an exception. I’ve come to see that these retellings often disappoint in the same regard – the characterization of Mr. Darcy. Austen herself just danced a fine line to make him not seem like an arrogant jerk before showing him to be the honorable man he is. Modern writers attempt to remedy this by doing the one thing Austen didn’t do. They show the reader Darcy’s side of the story. Wilson’s attempt at this did not work. Donovan Darcy’s inner turmoil is even more aggravating than his hot and cold treatment of Elizabeth. And Mr. Darcy does not wink!
If the characterization of Mr. Darcy is flawed in Wilson’s adaptation, Elizabeth totally misses the mark. Sure she has a sharp tongue in her verbal sparring with Donovan, but Elizabeth has none of Lizzy Bennett’s confidence and intelligence. It is really difficult to see what Donovan sees in her apart from her looks.
What I did enjoy about Unleashing Mr. Darcy was the glimpse into the dog show world and the canine characters (and the cute shoutout to Keeping Up Appearances!). I enjoy watching dog shows and I love dogs but I think I’m just ignorant enough to find the dog show scenes entertaining. I have a feeling that Wilson took a few artistic licenses there. In short, like watching dog shows, Unleashing Mr. Darcy was a diverting bit of fluff that probably would have been enjoyed more by someone who doesn’t love Pride and Prejudice quite as much as I do.
If you enjoy reading modernized takes on classics, particularly Pride and Prejudice and would like to read a good (and very modern) retelling, I recommend Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible. The book was part of The Austen Project where some of today’s popular writers wrote modern versions of four of Austen’s novels. I’ve read three of them – Eligible, Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope, and Emma by Alexander McCall Smith.
I did a lot of thinking during the last month of the year and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m writing this blog about the wrong subject. Or, I should say, writing about the books I read isn’t enough. While I am always reading something, what I read does not always inspire me to write a full-blown blog entry. Therefore I’ve made too few entries this past year. And my heart wasn’t always in those I did post. So I feel that I either must end this blog altogether or expand the subject matter beyond my bookshelves.
Now, I have many, many interests but I am an expert at none. My first instinct was to expand my entries to books and movies. Then I thought I might add TV shows and music to the list of subjects about which I write. But like with reading, I feel that one’s taste in movies, shows, and especially music is very personal. And maybe it’s the trauma of middle school talking but I don’t trust that I won’t be judged harshly for my tastes. Nothing personal, but the internet hasn’t shown itself to be the safest place to pour one’s heart out.
I’ve also considered posting snippets of my own fiction writing. Again my trusts issues come into play. Even though the writing is probably mostly crap, I can’t trust that my ideas won’t be stolen. I have issues. We all do. I know that but I’m only now beginning to realize that these trust issues of mine are holding me back not only in my blog but with my fiction. Maybe, instead of the usual resolution to get fit or be more responsible with money, my 2017 resolution should be to work on my trust issues. And not just my trust of strangers on the internet but also I need to learn to trust myself. This, I believe, would greatly benefit my writing as well as other areas of my life. Which I don’t trust you enough to talk about. Still, if I’ve actually posted this, it is a step in the right direction. Right?
Now, before the trust exercises begin I must post my annual Year in Review of the books I read in 2016. I went well over my goal of 30 books with 46 but that’s because I didn’t do very well at my other resolution to focus more on my fiction writing. I could blame a particularly tough year but the truth is I’m just really good at believing my own excuses. Neither did I succeed in completing Reading Challenge I attempted.
I thought it would be simple with only 12 books but I’m still working on the book that intimidates me – James Michener’s Alaska – and I never got around to the book I should’ve read in school or the one I’d previously abandoned. That’s not surprising considering that I didn’t want to read them the first time around. Here are the books I read to complete the other challenges:
I know I didn’t give it a full 5-star rating but it was just such a fun surprise and I think many people would enjoy the tale based on actual events. Don’t believe me? Go to the author’s page dedicated to these three brave women. I think it just proves that librarians really do know the best books. Plus there’s a fantastic sequel for when you finish long before you want it to end.
Reading Pamela Aidan’s Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman series, which reimagines Pride and Prejudice through Mr. Darcy’s eyes, for me, was like watching The Hobbitmovie trilogy. While I enjoyed a lot of it, in the back of my mind I was always thinking that it should not have been stretched into a trilogy. I mean if Jane fit the whole wonderful story into one perfect, timeless novel, why can’t her imitators?
A large part of Austen’s appeal is the narrow scope of her stories, focusing on the everyday lives and struggles of her heroines rather than trying to place her heroines in the larger world of her time. I feel that this is part of what makes her novels so timeless. Aidan, in what I imagine was an attempt to illustrate how much larger Darcy’s life is as a member of the upper social classes in terms of society and responsibility compared to Elizabeth’s, brings in subplots that involve politics, espionage, and even the supernatural. The entire second book, Duty and Desire, is like an overblown gothic romance that somehow still manages to be boring. If Aidan had forgone that second book in its entirety, getting rid of all of the unnecessary storylines it introduced, I think the two book format would have been enjoyable.
The extended format and ridiculous story lines had another adverse effect. There came as a point in the third book, These ThreeRemain, when I didn’t like Mr. Darcy anymore. Readers are supposed to gradually grow to like him, not the other way around. But something about his fantasy courtship of Elizabeth while visiting Lady Catherine at Rosings Park where he imagines feelings on Elizabeth’s part that are quite the opposite of her true feelings brought to mind Mr. Collins’s insistence that when a woman says no she is just being coy and really means yes. And that’s just creepy. Then, heartbroken, ashamed, and possibly having just escaped death or political scandal (again a ridiculous and unnecessary storyline), Darcy gets absolutely wasted in a pub. He then spends several (so many!) pages mentally convincing himself that his sister, friends, and the memory of his beloved father will think less of him for doing something so, well, human. Get over yourself, man!
Now, by the end of Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy is pretty swoon-worthy. Especially when he looks like this:
Heck, even this:
But the star of Jane Austen’s masterpiece is definitely Elizabeth and the rest of the Bennett family. And for good reason. Their delightfully human foibles make for more interesting reading and for better relatability. Darcy’s self-righteousness is more off-putting than relatable. Therefore, the best scenes, unsurprisingly, are often those that bring Elizabeth and Darcy together. It is interesting to see her through his eyes and enlightening to see how her assessment of him inspires Darcy to not only become a better man but to accept that it is okay to be imperfect. But then I guess that’s a lesson we all need to remember. Which just goes to show that even bad literature can teach us something.
Not that the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman series is bad. Like I said, there was a lot that I enjoyed about books 1, An Assembly Such as This, and 3, These Three Remain (I really wish it was possible to tell you that you can skip book 2 completely but then parts of book 3 might be confusing). I specifically enjoyed the passages that stuck to the confines of the original narrative of Pride and Prejudice. I smiled almost constantly from the moment Darcy discovers Elizabeth and the Gardiners at Pemberley until that classically happy ending. Just like I do every time I read Pride and Prejudice.