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I should have known by the front cover of this book to avoid it at all costs as it was a bit too pink and girly. However despite my instincts I picked this book up as it was billed as a sequel to "Pride and Prejudice" by Austen. "The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet" looked interesting as it was based on the characters from "Pride and Prejudice" twenty years on.
Mary Bennet, as the plain and unmarried Bennet sister has been left to care for Mrs Bennet in her old age and is only freed from her duty by her mother's death. The book is based on what Mary decides to do with her "freedom" afterwards. McCullough presents Mary as plain-speaking and deaf to social niceties - she says what she thinks. Mary is also presented as being pretty in this book as her bad tooth and bad skin have been fixed. She doesn't even sing badly anymore because her nephew told her how awful she was. Basically she is not the original Mary Bennet from "Pride and Prejudice"!
Elizabeth and Darcy are trapped in a loveless marriage; Jane and Bingley are still happy although Bingley has a mistress(!); Lydia is an embarrassment to them all and Kitty made a good marriage and is now a fashionable widow. The only parts of the characters that are recognisable are their names - McCullough has totally rewritten them and not well either.
I found this book easy enough to read but the plot was fairly ridiculous and not enjoyable at all. Darcy has turned into an ogre who controls everyone's lives, especially the Bennet sisters, and seems to have reverted to the character he was at the start of "Pride and Prejudice", only less well written.
Mary has suddenly become socially conscious and intelligent as well as pretty and not only that but she is a feminist too. McCullough has Mary behaving totally unrealistically for her time and situation by defying her rich brother-in-law and doing as she pleases. She lives without a female chaperone and travels about on her own apparently heedless of society and her own reputation.
The other characters don't fare much better I'm afraid and the plot becomes more and more ridiculous with every chapter. The ending is total rubbish and evil ogre Darcy - sorry- Fitz, as McCullough has all the characters refer to him - suddenly becomes loving and warm. He performs an about-face and blames his earlier behaviour on a bad childhood - the side plot about Darcy's father is pretty funny as it's totally unbelievable. McCullough also has the same side plot involving the secret of the closeness between Darcy and another character she introduces, Ned. Well, I'm afraid it's a secret that's not a secret at all and was very easy to work out.
I think that McCullough was trying to reinforce the fact that society was patriarchal and that Darcy would have taken over his wife and her sister's lives after the death of their father. It just wasn't well written or even thought out though. Even the happy ending is rubbish!
The villains in the book are even worse - especially the highwayman named Captain Thunder - yes really. The main villain involving Mary is just really dull!
It's just a totally unrealistic book and I can't really convey in a review how awful it was - the characters, plot and dialogue were all shaky at best. Any fan of the original "Pride and Prejudice" would be sorely disappointed in reading this "sequel".
My advice would be to avoid this book at all costs - even taking the "Pride and Prejudice" element out of the equation, the plot is still terrible and the book is not well written at all. It's basically a bodice ripper disguised as a sequel to "Pride and Prejudice" and not even a good bodice ripper at that!
This review is also on ciao.co.uk under my username.