I recently received a parcel from Pan Macmillan which actually made me jump for joy when I opened it – it contained a review copy of The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow. I’m normally very wary of reading sequels and retellings of my favourite books written by different authors as I am worried about what they will do with characters I love. However, a book about Mary Bennet is hard for a bookworm to resist!
In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mary is the middle of the five Bennet girls and the plainest of them all, so what hope does she have? Prim and pious, with no redeeming features, she is unloved and seemingly unlovable.
The Other Bennet Sister, though, shows another side to Mary. An introvert in a family of extroverts; a constant disappointment to her mother who values beauty above all else; fearful of her father’s sharp tongue; with little in common with her siblings – is it any wonder she turns to books for both company and guidance? And, if she finds her life lonely or lacking, that she determines to try harder at the one thing she can be: right.
One by one, her sisters marry – Jane and Lizzy for love; Lydia for some semblance of respectability – but Mary, it seems, is destined to remain single and live out her life at Longbourn, at least until her father dies and the house is bequeathed to the reviled Mr Collins.
But when that fateful day finally comes, she slowly discovers that perhaps there is hope for her, after all.
Simultaneously a wonderfully warm homage to Jane Austen and a delightful new story in its own right, Janice Hadlow’s The Other Bennet Sister is, at its heart, a life-affirming tale of a young woman finding her place in the world. Witty and uplifting, it will make you feel – and cheer – for Mary as you never have before.
The very first sentence of this book drew me straight in. It had a nod to Pride and Prejudice which caught my attention but it is very much its own story which is what kept me reading. I loved the passing references to some of Jane Austen’s other novels (especially the discussion about muslin!) and I thought that Janice Hadlow had captured Austen’s tone well.
I found that this book to be more descriptive and contain less dialogue than Austen’s own work and it also had a more introspective feel to it. This may have been due to the fact that it is told from Mary Bennet’s point of view – it suited her very well.
I had expected to be given a different view of Mary and that was indeed the case. Growing up I always wanted to be Lizzy (don’t we all?) but was afraid that really I was much more of a Mary. Now that idea doesn’t worry me. What I didn’t realise was that I would also see an entirely new side to Mr Collins. I may have been unfair to him in the past!
I very much enjoyed this book and I would recommend to fans of Jane Austen. It is obviously not the same as a book by her but it is a believable new story in her world and I think it fits nicely. I have also appreciated the fact that it has sent me back to Austen’s own novels. I have dipped into Northanger Abbey and am currently staying in Hunsford Parsonage as I work my way through yet another re-read (or – in this case – listen) of Pride and Prejudice. Any book which gets me involved enough to go back and compare scenes with those told from a different perspective in the original novel is clearly doing something right.
The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow