Here's the next instalment in my reading list. I got a great haul from the library last week - it's so much easier to find some good books when you've got a list of what you want to read rather than looking over the shelves for something you might like and haven't already borrowed. Especially in a small library like ours. Thanks to the suggestions some of you have made, as well as some ideas from various other places, I now have quite a few books I'd like to investigate further.
One that really took my fancy this week was Colleen McCullough's The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet. I love Pride and Prejudice. LOVE. And I've always had a soft spot for Mary. She was such a ridiculous figure with her terrible singing and overwhelming piety and, to my mind, was always the left-out middle child. Jane and Elizabeth as the eldest daughers were best friends and confidantes and Kitty and Lydia as the youngest daughters were silly and undisciplined and poor Mary was left to her own devices. The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet is set twenty years after the marriages of Elizabeth to Darcy and Jane to Bingley and shows us a very different Mary to that seen in Pride and Prejudice.
I loved Mary's story and enjoyed revisiting each of the Bennet sisters. Parts of the story will quite possible horrify die-hard P&P fans but I was impressed with McCullough's working of the characters. I have read other P&P sequels and haven't liked them nearly as much, in fact I've not finished a couple because they annoyed me so much but McCullough has retained the sense of each character while allowing them to grow up (or not, as the case may be!). Darcy's still arrogant, smug and conceited and it hasn't done him any favours with his family. Elizabeth is still pig-headed and thinks she knows best. Lydia is still man-crazy, particularly if the man happens to be a soldier and Jane is still sweet, forgiving, Jane. But it's Mary who is at the centre of the book and she very quickly became my favourite character. She is clever and witty, self-deprecating and completely unaware of her own charms. She has 'grown up' and is horrified by the girl she was. As she quite rightly points out she could have been a much nicer person if one of her sisters had but told her she had a terrible singing voice and that people don't like being preached to. Instead they laughed at her behind her back and made a polite show of listening to her perform. Mr Bennet takes something of a bashing in the novel and I did find that a little difficult initially but the reasons are... um reasonable and I was easily swayed.
If you're a P&P fan but are far enough removed from it to cope with the characters being played with I'd really recommend this one.
**A warning - there is some fairly crude language in there that will offend some readers. To be honest I'm not sure it was entirely necessary but it did prove the point McCullough was trying to make and, despite what we might think, it is historically acurate for the time.