The S. & S. hc was recommended "more for McCullough's fans than Miss Jane's," LJ 1/09; Jen Taylor reads. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
According to a recent poll of 15,000 Dymocks booklover members, Pride and Prejudice is considered one of the best books ever written and yet one that I am shamefaced to admit has never quite made it to the top of my reading pile. I start the review off with this embarrassing secret because it's a direct result of McCullough's fine 'sequel' that it's now moved into prime position. I also use it to illustrate the fact that it's entirely possible to enjoy this historical epic without having formally met the Bennet/Darcy clan. The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet picks up the story of the Bennet sisters 20 years after Jane Austen left off. However, as the title suggests, the story's focus is now on the newly liberated and long-neglected middle child, Mary. After 17 years of 'doing the right thing' looking after her twittering mother, Mary is a changed woman and has decided she would like to make a difference in the world. The comfortable, yet conveniently remote home that Mr Darcy selected to house his troublesome mother-in-law, came with a well-appointed library that no-one would have expected Mary to bother reading ... but read it she did. Thus armed with a righteous sense of the social injustice plaguing newly industrialised England Mary sets off to research the plight of the poor and the working-class for a book she intends to write. As the promotional blurb states, the resultant story is 'both a page-turning adventure and a cracking romance' and, as you would expect of an author of McCullough's talent, utilises many of the epic genre's strengths in a sophisticated and very well told manner. I particularly enjoyed the realistic portrayals of Elizabeth and Darcy's marriage and the descriptions of back roads of 19th-century England. The romantic subplot is not overbearing and the finer descriptions in keeping with the tonal sensibilities of the Georgian popular novel. Given the marketing push HarperCollins has committed to, I have no doubt this will be a successful book and it is nice to be able to say that, for once, it will deserve the hype. If asked for a one-line summary I suggest ... 'The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet combines Austen's loved characters with a Dickensian sensibility, added to the mix is some feminist spice resulting in a hearty yet delicious novel perfect for the Christmas market.' Rachel Wilson is an academic and occasionally works at the Sun Bookshop, Yarraville