Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Death Comes to Pemberley—P.D. James

They also accused her of being sardonic, and although there was uncertainty about the meaning of the word, they knew that it was not a desirable quality in a woman, being one which gentlemen particularly disliked. (9)

The book opens with a ten page reminder of what we experienced in Pride and Prejudice, although I must say that James infuses the society with a bit more skepticism than I experienced upon reading it.

As James suggests, everyone imagines that Elizabeth was scheming the entirety of her relationship with Darcy in order to catch him. From the very beginning, from the very moment they met, everything she did was carefully calculated in order to marry Darcy in the end. (In the summary, upon journeying to Pemberley with the Gardiners, her aunt and uncle: "...if Miss Elizabeth had entertained any doubts about the wisdom of her scheme to secure Mr. Darcy, the first sight of Pemberley had confirmed her determination to fall in love with him at the first convenient moment." 8) Throughout the book, Elizabeth herself questions it: would she have been as forgiving, as apt to change her mind about someone, if they had not had Darcy's money?

I was immensely and happily surprised at how authentic the dialogue and writing was. P.D. James makes some interesting and thoughtful choices about the well-loved (and some not-so-well-loved) characters that we met in the original P & P. She further develops the history of Wickham, in a completely believable way.

The setting is about six years after the double wedding between the Bingleys and the Darcys. Elizabeth is planning the ball that Darcy's mother started so many years ago. On the eve of the ball, Lydia Wickham (nee Bennett) shows up at Pemberley in a carriage, hysterical that her husband had just been killed in the woods of Pemberley. It turns out, Denny and not Wickham has just been killed. When Darcy and Bingley find the body in the woods, they also find Wickham, covered in blood, admitting that it's his fault. The remainder of the book is spent exploring what actually happens.

Additionally, there are some great moments and lines that James includes in her book. Although I've never really cared for Lady de Bourgh, it does remind me too much of Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey (and, incidentally, my grandmother) when Lady be Bourgh says, "The de Bourghs have never gone in for prolonged dying. People should make up their minds whether to live or to die and do one or the other with the least inconvenience to others." (156) And who doesn't love Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey?

Phenomenal read. And how freakin' adorable is P.D. James? And she was born in 1920, as her short bio says at the end of the book. Not bad for a 92-year-old woman!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Labyrinth—Kate Mosse

I read this book once before, about five years ago. I actually found it in an Oxfam in London for .99 and thought to myself, "That's a lot of book for not a lot of money." I zoomed through it in two days (while I was in London, I might add) as it was so well-written, fast-paced, and intriguing.

In preparation for her new(er) book, Sepulchre, I thought I'd read it again to prepare myself. (Having started Sepulchre, I realized I'd actually read that one before as well.) Sepulchre is not particularly a sequel to Labyrinth, which I should have realized had I actually remembered the ending of this one. It doesn't really leave room for a sequel. In fact, one of the main points of the book is the resolution of a story almost eight hundred years in the making.

Regardless, I'm glad that I read it again, because it was still a quick read (even at 700 pages) and I noticed a few nuances that I had somehow skipped over in my last reading.

The book, as the tagline on the cover says, explores the stories of "Three secrets. Two women. One Grail." The story alternates between more or less present day (2005) Alice Tanner (who begins assisting on an archeological dig and feels an inexplicable draw to the location and artifacts that she finds) and Alais du Mas, who lives in the late 12th, early 13th century in the same location. When Alice loses consciousness while searching for artifacts, she begins to dream of Alais's life. A grand conspiracy and lives connected across centuries.

Kate Mosse is an astonishing storyteller. Although the story does skip back and forth, it's not confusing or disorienting. She seamlessly ties together these two distinct stories, in a completely compelling and fantastical way.

Great read. I highly suggest it.