Monday, September 10, 2012
Review: Searching for Pemberley by Mary Lidon Simonsen
American Maggie Joyce, touring Derbyshire in 1947, visits an 18th century Georgian country house that she is told was the model for Jane Austen's Pemberley. More amazingly, the former residents of the mansion, William Lacey and Elizabeth Garrison, were the inspiration for the characters Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice.
Through letters, diary entries, and oral history, a couple in the nearby village share stories of the people they say inspired Jane Austen. They also tell their own love story, made difficult by their vastly different backgrounds—she was one of the social elite while he was the son of a servant. When their son, Michael, travels home from his RAF station in Malta, Maggie may have just found her very own Mr. Darcy..."
Review: I really liked the idea of this novel, but will admit to having struggled with all that was going on. Between the historical possibility that Darcy and Elizabeth might have been real people, to the relationships between Maggie and several other characters, it was about all I could keep up with. The writing is good and solid, with a classical feel to it that lends itself well to this story. You feel like you're reading about several different time periods and I think Simonsen manages to set the tone really well.
As mentioned, however, I did get lost a bit. Maggie is not only dealing with her role in WWI & WWII, which would be overwhelming and daunting all on its own, but she is also dealing with the history that she is uncovering about Jane Austen's most famous couple. I couldn't tell who I wanted to latch onto. Was I supposed to be watching Maggie's reaction to finding out that Darcy and Elizabeth might be real, or was I supposed to be more concerned with her survival and relationships in the present? I realized that they were supposed to mix together, but it did take me until about half way through the book before I really cared about both stories.
Overall, I thought this was a charming book, but one that takes a little bit of a commitment to stick to in order to get the story. I do think there is a specific audience for this book. If you're a fan of Jane Austen and like these stories that consider the conditions in which Austen wrote her novels, then you might check this out.
*FTC Disclosure: This review was based on a review copy provided by the publisher, Sourcebooks.