I knew it was good to last. Had me a good run of sorts with entertaining, best-seller type fiction (see The Pilot's Wife, Handle with Care, and Sing Them Home). Even got to feeling a bit less guilty about my sometime predilection for fluff when, after explaining my dilemma to a dear friend, she called me a book snob (really, it was a good thing).
And then I had to do it to myself. Much as I still find myself checking out Maeve Binchy and Ann Rivers Siddons books, even though I know either I've outgrown them or the author's become too repetitious even for me, I Can't. Seem. To. Resist. the Jane Austen fan fiction. The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet wasn't half-bad, but Mr. and Mrs. Darcy and now Lydia Bennet's Story, by Jane Odiwe (Sourcebooks, 2008) ... meh. Let's just say I wonder if these authors chose to riff on Pride and Prejudice simply because they hadn't enough gumption to invent worlds and characters of their own.
Obviously, this book purports to tell the tale of the youngest and probably least sympathetic Bennet sister, Lydia. You'd think, as such, that she'd be more likeable or at least more complex here than in Austen's original, but no such luck. Nope, Lydia's still a PITA, and not even a particularly funny or interesting one. For the first half of the book, she flirts, gossips, goes on about clothes and fashion, and seems concerned above all with showing off and impressing others. She accompanies a married (= respectable) friend, Harriet, to the seaside resort of Brighton for the sole purpose of ogling the soldiers who are encamped there. She quickly catches the eye of the oh-so-dandy Captain Trayton-Camfield of the prince's regiment, but soon finds that his kisses leave her cold and, um, he wants more than just kisses. Of course, who should swoop to her rescue but her old friend (and sister Lizzy's old beau) George Wickham. His kisses do not leave her cold, and he soon convinces her to run away with him to Scotland, where they'll be married. Mistaking good old garden variety lust for love, Lydia overlooks a few glaring red flags: Wickham's unseemly preoccupation with her money, their hasty departure from Brighton, the sudden change of their travel plans (ix-nay on Otland-scay; enter instead a cheap flat in an unfashionable London neighborhood), and the distinctly non-sudden wedding.
As P & P fans will no doubt recall, Mr. Darcy ultimately convinces Wickham to listen to reason (read: bribery) and marry Lydia, if only to preserve her parents' and sisters' reputations, but they don't exactly live happily ever after. Rumors about Wickham's extramarital activities seem to come from all corners, culminating in his "sister" (or so he told the loathesome Caroline Bingley) arriving at Netherfield (home of Mr. and Mrs. Bingley, the latter nee Jane Bennet) during a family party and making a scene straight out of Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, demanding that those present produce Wickham.
Yes, Wickham is ultimately disposed of, and Lydia does find a happy ending -- but in such a contrived manner that it really felt tacked on. Mr. & Mrs. Darcy was no great shakes, either, but at least that had some titillating moments to offer. This one, though -- kinda like bad shellfish. I think I'm off the Austen fanfic for a while.
- Ithaca, New York
- MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.