Ruth's Reviews > Searching For Pemberley

Searching For Pemberley by Mary Lydon Simonsen
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Feb 03, 2012

it was ok
Read from December 28, 2011 to January 03, 2012

2.5 Stars. Following the end of World War II, twenty-two year old Maggie Joyce, desperate not to return to a dead-end future in her mining hometown in Pennsylvania, accepts a job in post-war Europe with the Army that sees her transferred to London. While touring Montclair, a grand country estate, Maggie is astonished to recognize striking similarities between the story of estate's ancestral owners, William and Elizabeth Lacey, and Pride and Prejudice, her favorite of Jane Austen's novels. The idea that Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy were based on real people is too tantalizing to resist, and Maggie embarks on a journey to sift fact from fiction, hoping to learn the truth behind one of literature's most enduring love stories. Maggie's "guide" into the real Elizabeth and Darcy's past are Beth and Jack Crowell, whose relation to the subject of Austen's novel is closer than Maggie could've dreamed, and provide a fascinating glimpse into the war-torn history of one of Britain's premiere families. Along the way the once lovelorn Maggie finds herself torn between two men, and faced with the chance to determine her own postwar future, Maggie must decide if taking a chance on her own real-life Darcy is worth the risk of leaving behind the life she was raised to know.

The basic premise of this novel is fascinating -- I love the idea that one of my favorite fictional couples could've been real individuals, and the idea promises rich fodder for a devotee of Pride and Prejudice. While I have no doubt that Elizabeth and Darcy were wholly products of Austen's considerable talents and imaginative genius, the idea of a real-life Pride and Prejudice "treasure hunt" is an appealing fiction, and as such I found myself relating to Maggie's enthusiasm in her quest to discover the real Elizabeth and Darcy -- a literary archaelogical expedition of the highest order. The problems come in the execution of this premise -- the storytelling format consists mainly of large "information dumps," with pages of dialogue where a character shares research with Maggie, or pages of prose where she details her latest discoveries. The result is a lengthy tome that reads more like research thesis notes than a novel. There is very little character development, Simonsen opting instead to showcase research and history -- and the only reason this works to some degree for me is because I appreciate the basic premise of her story.

I didn't expect this novel to provide a not uneffective analysis of the cost of war on those who survive combat to return to civilian life. Through Jack and Beth's reminscences and the stories of Maggie's love interests, Simonsen explores the terrible toll both world wars took on society as a whole, particularly those who survived to return home to "normal" life. At first blush the juxtaposition of a late 18th-century love story and life in postwar Britain seems most unlikely, but in some weird way it works -- Maggie's research into the Laceys' past helps her find her footing in a postwar society, torn between the wounds of war and hope of peacetime. The "upstairs/downstairs" dynamic of Beth and Jack's love story is particularly timely, given the resurgence of interest in the pre-World War I time period thanks to shows like Downton Abbey.

Simonsen clearly has a passion for history and her love of research, both Georgian and World War II era, shines in this reimagining of Austen's inspiration for Pride and Prejudice. This novel is ALL telling and little to no showing, but despite the novel's often awkward and stilted narrative style, there was a spark within that kept me turning pages -- perhaps it was recognizing in Simonsen a fellow Austen aficionada. With more attention to character development and action instead of packing in every single bit of research in pages-long information dumps, Searching for Pemberley reveals the potential of an author whose passion for history and the classics can't help but be appreciated.
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Comments (showing 1-15 of 15) (15 new)

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message 1: by Jen (new)

Jen This one sounds interesting.


Ruth Okay...it is a little dry so far. But it was only $1.79 for Kindle so I figured why not? LOL! ;)


message 3: by Jen (new)

Jen lol Did you get a Kindle?


Ruth YES! My brother & sister-in-law got me one for Christmas!


message 5: by Jen (new)

Jen Oh, how exciting! How are you liking it so far?


Ruth Pretty nice! :) I apparently don't have wi-fi anywhere near me at my apartment, so I'm downloading books via USB cable, but that is okay. Right now the Kindle is a repository for free books and those on sale for $3 or less. :)


message 7: by Jen (new)

Jen Oh, that's too bad about the wi-fi. Which version do you have? Aren't free Kindle books the greatest? =D


Ruth I have the Kindle w/ special offers. Of course the thing is with the wi-fi turned off, I don't get the advertisements! LOL! And the charge will probably last longer (at least that's my thinking). I figure this will be a good test run to see if I want to get the Kindle Touch 3G or the Kindle Fire at some point later on...


message 9: by Jen (new)

Jen That's a bummer. The charge does last longer when you are off line. At least mine does. The Kindle Fire looks nice but I kinda like that you can only read on the kindle. Not too much stimulation. lol


message 10: by Ruth (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ruth I'm really okay with it, since once I download a book I don't really need the wi-fi capability. I need to take it with me EVERYWHERE now to see where I can get access. :)

The main reason I'm interested in a Kindle Fire is because I've downloaded a couple of movies from Amazon, and I figure that would be a very convenient way to watch them. :)


message 11: by Jen (new)

Jen Being able to watch a movie anywhere sounds nice. =}


message 12: by Ruth (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ruth Seriously. :) And it has a decent little screen size too!


message 13: by Renee (new)

Renee Okay butting in LOL! I just wanted to say congrats on getting a Kindle I had last years model and I loved it and I got a Fire for Christmas and I LOVE it so far! Like you I wanted it to watch what I had downloaded from Amazon and it's excellent! It's not quite HD but it's pretty close and the streaming isn't "jerky", it's pretty smooth. I haven't downloaded anything since I don't have an micro USB for it yet but hopefully it won't be too much of a hassle.


message 14: by Ruth (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ruth Awesome, Renee! So glad to know you're enjoying your Kindle Fire! Maybe that will go on my wishlist for next year. :)


message 15: by Renee (new)

Renee I'll just bet Amazon will introduce another tablet before next Christmas that will be even better!


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