It is a sad fact of life that if a young woman is unlucky enough to come into the world without expectations, she had better do all she can to ensure she is born beautiful. To be handsome and poor is misfortune enough; but to be both plain and penniless is a hard fate indeed.
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.
I’ve loved Pride and Prejudice for many years and can be something of a purist, generally speaking. It has meant that I tend to avoid any retellings of stories I love or sequels by different authors.
However, the temptation became too much when I heard several glowing reviews from reliable sources for The Other Bennet Sister, and I purchased the book on a whim. Thankfully my sources were right and it has been such a wonderful experience reading this book.
The first part of the book is set during Pride and Prejudice but the rest follows on from the marriages of Jane and Lizzy. It was such a joy to revisit some of my favourite characters such as Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
However, this book is primarily about Mary Bennet. When I saw Jen Campbell’s review of this book, she commented that her opinions had changed of some characters, and whether by suggestion or my own interpretation, I had the same experience. It brought to light just how cruelly Mary is treated and her desperate attempts to fit in and please others.
Watching Mary come into her own and become her own person has filled a gap that Pride and Prejudice leaves behind. Hadlow’s writing means that the reader becomes so intimately acquainted with Mary that we feel her every sadness and hope as she goes on her journey.
My only minor criticism of this book is that we lose that intimacy towards the end and Mary becomes more distant, although I do also feel that is a reflection of Mary becoming who she wants to be, she is no longer ours to watch over.
Hadlow has done Austen’s work proud. The Other Bennet Sister is a stunning and absorbing read of which I would have gladly read more.
I purchased this book myself and was not asked to write a review.
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What do you think of The Other Bennet Sister? Will you be reading it? Let me know in the comments below.
Wishing you a wonderfully bookish week,