When I saw Pemberley by Emma Tennant in the library on Friday, I decided to pick it up out of curiosity. I mean, how bad could it be, right? Huge, huge, unforgivable mistake.
I’ve always loved Pride and Prejudice, and after studying it last year I love it more. It’s light and funny and refined and ironic and just a delight to read. A sequel would be fun – just to see a possible alternative “what happens next”.
Well for a start, the timelines are all screwed up. Within a year of Lizzie and Darcy’s marriage, Mr. Bennett is dead, Jane has had one child and is well on the way to a second, and the Wickhams are multiplying like bunnies – four children so far. How, we do not know, especially since the end of P&P seemed to indicate years of Mr. Bennett visiting Pemberley.
Lizzie feels terrible at not having provided her husband with an heir in (gasp!) a whole year. Lady Catherine turns up with a cousin of Darcy’s who is the heir to the estate, should Lizzie fail to produce one. All the characters of the original book show up at Pemberley for Christmas, Lizzie and Darcy have marital troubles (Lizzie lies awake at night, waiting for him to come to her. Oh the tragedy! Does anyone happen to have a violin on them?). Lizzie abandons Darcy, suspecting him of having fathered a child with another woman.
In the final chapter (a whole four pages long) Tennant seems to have got bored, and wraps up the whole story. The illegitimate child is Bingley’s, Darcy is a good man, Jane nearly dies, Lizzie falls down stairs, Lizzie loses consciousness, Lizzie gains consciousness, Lizzie is pregnant, they all live happily ever after. Awful.
Tennant’s language is vaguely Austen-esque, but it’s hard to imagine Austen writing so much sex-stuff. And she doesn’t have Austen’s sense of humour. Read only if you’re the kind of sadomasochist who liked Alexandra Ripley’s Scarlett.