Perhaps you remember Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s magnificent “pile” which Elizabeth Bennett tours with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner in Pride and Prejudice....morePerhaps you remember Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s magnificent “pile” which Elizabeth Bennett tours with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner in Pride and Prejudice. When they meet at Darcy’s home the meeting on Darcy’s home ground is quite important because it allows Darcy and Elizabeth a small window of time to let go of the social images they have had of each other. (Darcy arrogant, too proud to accept a love that seems socially beneath his family’s expectations.) (Elizabeth, intelligent enough to understand that her family is not quite up to snuff either financially or in the social hierarchy of the day.) When they meet at Pemberley it is their first opportunity to enjoy each other’s company without the constant awareness of the social distance between them. You surely remember that soon after this meeting Darcy finally realizes that Bingley should marry Jane and, almost immediately realizes that he does not want to live without Elizabeth. Two weddings and much happiness ensue.
In Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James, we return to Darcy’s beautiful estate and we find the happy couple, still very well-matched and several years further along in their marriage with two healthy sons in the nursery. You probably have read something by P.D. James, a prize-winning British mystery writer. I’m not sure why James decided to take on Jane Austen and write a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, but she is probably the most qualified person to attempt this.
It is the day before Lady Anne’s Ball. Preparations at Pemberley are proceeding as planned. The staff is busy preparing for the next day when all the perishable foods must be prepared. Silver is being polished. The first guests, Bingley and Jane, Colonel Fitzwilliam (Darcy’s good friend), and a lawyer from London who seems smitten with Georgiana, Henry Alveston have gathered.
Do you remember Lydia, Jane’s and Elizabeth’s disgraceful sister, saved from ruin by Darcy, married to the handsome but untrustworthy George Wickham? She and her husband have not been invited to the ball. Lydia doesn’t stand on ceremony however and she hates to miss a party so she plans to attend without Wickham and to surprise Elizabeth. On the way to Pemberley with Wickham and his friend, Captain Denny, (who will stay in an inn as Wickham is not welcome at Pemberley) someone is murdered in the woods which are part of the estate. Lydia arrives at the front entrance to Pemberley in a highly excitable state.
P.D. James, who worked in the British Civil Service, Police and Criminal Policy Department (among others) knows her police procedures. But can she handle the police procedures which would have pertained if Jane Austen had written murder mysteries? Well, I am not an Austen scholar, just an appreciator, but James’s descriptions of the investigation, the arrest of the possible murderer, and the trial worked very well for me. Nothing seemed discordant or out of time. The style of the book was consistent with Jane Austen’s style; and the murder mystery and its eventual outcomes were believable. It missed a bit in that Jane Austen had a great skill for creating interesting and very human characters which was well-suited to the romance genre in which she wrote. This kind of character delineation was not the main focus of James, although she certainly did a good job with the investigators and the judges.
I had decided to give up on most books that are take-offs on classics and I will probably stick with that decision, but I’m not sorry to have read this particular sequel. It is well done and enjoyable and continues the pleasure we took from our happy Pride and Prejudice couples. (less)
Every time I think that no one will be able to find anything new to tell us, or that there are no creative ways left to tell us, about World War II an...moreEvery time I think that no one will be able to find anything new to tell us, or that there are no creative ways left to tell us, about World War II and the Holocaust, some wonderful author proves me wrong and offers a new perspective. This is a very good thing because we should be constantly reminded that, although humans can be sublime, they can also be evil.
In The Book Thief the author, Markus Zusak, who writes for older young adults, uses Death as his narrator, a truly unique and appropriate approach to this particular period in human history. Death is doing as Death does, collecting dead souls and releasing them from ruined bodies, sending them on to, in this case, an unspecified destination. But while Death is pursuing business as usual, Death is also focusing on a young German girl, Liesel Meminger, who is riding on a train with her dead brother and her mom. Her brother has only just died and because of his death she and her mom are taken off the train. Death is with the little family as Liesel’s brother is buried in a cemetery in an unknown town and the only thing that Liesel is left with is a book of instructions for new gravedigger’s. Liesel is being taken to live with a foster family in a town on the edge of Munich. Their journey resumes when the funeral ends. She brings the little black book with her although she cannot read. This is her first act of book theft and it happens by accident.
Hans and Rosa Hubermann are her new foster parents. Fresh from the burial of her brother she is grieving and scared and does not want to leave her mom and go to live with people she does not know. But Hans is such a nice man and so warm and kind that she begins to accept him as her papa, and she begins to see that, although Rosa constantly swears at her husband, her new foster daughter, and all her neighbors, she also has a good heart and, in her way, loves Liesel. Liesel meets the neighbor’s son Rudy and they become partners in crime. Rudy is hungry, he wants to steal food. Liesel is hungry for words, she steals books and her papa teaches her to read and write. When an old friend calls in a favor and sends a Jew to their house they hide him in their basement and he becomes the final member of their family.
Here’s what Death has to say (Death has a lot to say in this book):
"There were certainly some rounds to be made that year, from Poland to Russia to Africa and back again. You might argue that I make the rounds no matter what year it is, but sometimes the human race likes to crank things up a little. They increase production of bodies and their escaping souls. A few bombs usually do the trick. Or some gas chambers, or the chitchat of faraway guns. If none of that finishes proceedings, it at least strips people of their living arrangements, and I witness the homeless everywhere. They often come after me as I wander through the streets of molested cities. They beg me to take them with me, not realizing I’m too busy as it is. “Your time will come,” I convince them, and I try not to look back. At times, I wish I could say something like, “Don’t you see I’ve already got enough on my plate?” but I never do, I complain internally as I go about my work, and some years, the souls and bodies don’t add up; they multiply."
Because this book was written for young adults means that it is very readable, but has a content all adults will appreciate. It is not a cheerful book. How could it be? But it tells what it was like to live in Germany through the war years, both when Hitler was succeeding and when he was failing, if you were an ordinary German citizen and if you did not think that the way Hitler used words was inspiring, if in fact you felt that he almost made words filthy and obsolete. He eventually turned Liesel from a book thief to a book writer. You will hate the ending, and then it will redeem itself. This is a book well worth reading. (less)