A few months ago, I heard that Avon was publishing Ann Herendeen's interpretation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. In this version not only Darcy and Bingley are involved in a relationship but also Elizabeth and Charlotte. Kate over at Babbling about Books wrote a blog post about whether or not readers of Jane Austen would really want to read a bisexual version of their favorite characters. Well, if they can believe that Darcy is a vampire or that the Bennett sisters are zombie slayers, why not same sex relationships? I'm not a huge fan of Jane Austen paraliterature. I have no desire to read about Darcy and Elizabeth after their wedding or what happened to the rest of the Bennett sisters. However, I was intrigued enough by the reviews of Herendeen's first book Phyllida and The Brotherhood of Philander and an interview that I had read on Risky Regencies to give this book a shot.
From the back cover: For readers who've loved Jane Austen's most popular novel - the inestimable Pride and Prejudice - questions have always remained. What is the real nature of Darcy's intense friendship with Charles Bingley, to explain why he would prevent Bingley's marriage to Elizabeth's beautiful and virtuous sister Jane? How can Darcy reconcile his own desire for Elizabeth with his determination to save his friend from a similar entanglement? What is the disturbing history behind Darcy's tortured relationship with his foster brother George Wickham? And what other intimacies besides their cherished friendship, are exchanged between Elizabeth and Charlotte Lucas?
I wish I could say that I enjoyed this book but I found it incredibly frustrating. I had no problem with the idea of Darcy and Bingley being lovers although I quibble with Herendeen's view that she is just illuminating what was in the original novel. It reminds me of a director that I worked with who insisted that Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest was a sex farce or Jerry Falwell insisting that the Teletubbies were gay. The reasons for Darcy's not wanting Bingley to marry Jane are quite clear in the original novel. Her family is a nightmare and Darcy is a snob. And I never found Darcy's friendship with Bingley to be anymore intense than any male friendship. We've all had friends who have dated someone we think is awful or inappropriate, it doesn't make one gay, just a good friend.
Pride and Prejudice fans will probably look askance at Herendeen's decision to give the famous first line of the book to Darcy while he's lolling around in bed with his lover. The book is clearly meant for readers who are familiar with the original novel. Characters spend time either talking about scenes that happened in the original book or having interior monologues about them. In fact one of the greatest weaknesses of this book is that there is too much telling and not enough showing.
There would be scenes in the book, mainly between Elizabeth and Charlotte, or Elizabeth and Jane that were positively Austenesque and then Herendeen would go back to Bingley and Darcy and it would get silly again. There were descriptions in the book that bordered on purple prose. There are long chunks set in London with characters that aren't in the original book but I suspect were in Herendeen's first book. There are also scenes told from the viewpoint of Georgiana Darcy and Anne de Burgh which I thought were unnecessary, not to mention a scene with three minor characters that seemed like it belonged in a different book. I also found it strange that Darcy and Bingley refer to each other by their first names in this book while Austen always has them refer to each other by their last names. It took me awhile to get used them being called Charles and Fitz. And that's the biggest problem, the characters don't seem like Austen's characters. As one reviewer on Amazon pointed out, it's like they are in an alternate universe.
While there are plenty of sex scenes between Darcy and Bingley, Darcy and Wickham in flashbacks, Darcy and various other people, there aren't really any sex scenes between Elizabeth and Charlotte apart from a brief scene where Elizabeth puts the moves on Charlotte after her marriage to Mr. Collins. Again, we're told that they've had a relationship, and Elizabeth makes a comment about her mother complaining about her dress being dirty after spending time with Charlotte but we see nothing. Darcy in this version is even more unlikeable than he is in Austen's version. He never seems to listen to other people, particularly when Charles is telling him that he wants to end their relationship because of his feelings for Jane. He's pretty much a jerk through most of the book. I never once believed that he loved Elizabeth, perhaps because he spent so much time thinking about her nipples.
I also had a hard time believing the ending, that both Jane and Elizabeth would be so understanding about the nature of the relationship between Darcy and Bingley. Considering that male homosexuality was illegal and most well brought up young ladies weren't even told the facts of life before they married, it's asking a little to much of the reader that both women would be waving regency rainbow flags.
If you are a huge Austen fan, you are probably not going to like this book.
Verdict: 2 apples out of 5.