Friday, December 18, 2009

Great Review for Searching for Pemberley from Diary of an Eccentric

Jane Austen sequels and "re-imaginings" are a guilty pleasure of mine, and I love it when I find one that stands out from the crowd. Also, I am always seeking out books on World War II. Put these together, and you have Mary Lydon Simonsen's Searching for Pemberley.

Simonsen's heroine is Maggie Joyce, an American stationed in London in 1947 with the Army Exchange Service. World War II ended just two years prior, and the British are still feeling the pinch of rations, grieving the death of loved ones killed in the battlefield or by the bombs, and doing their best to get by while standing in the midst of destruction...

Maggie travels with a friend to Derbyshire to visit Montclair, a historic house that once belonged to William Lacey and Elizabeth Garrison Lacey, a couple believed to have inspired Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Maggie, a huge fan of the classic novel, wants to know as much as she can about the home and the Laceys to determine whether they truly are Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. Her search to learn more about the Laceys brings her to the doorstep of Jack and Beth Crowell, and an instant bond is formed. Jack and Beth grow to love Maggie and think of her as a daughter, and through frequent visits and correspondence, Maggie reads letters and diary entries and slowly uncovers the history of the Lacey and Garrison families...

Meanwhile, Maggie must contend with a longing to return to her hometown in Pennsylvania and her desire at the same time to stay away. She comes from a coal-mining town with few opportunities, and she's grown to love the life she's leading in England. Besides Jack and Beth, Maggie has feelings for both Rob, an American who served as a navigator on a B-17 bomber during the war and wears the scars to prove it, and Michael, Beth and Jack's son and a pilot in the RAF. Things get a little complicated for Maggie, especially when she learns how deeply the horrors of war have affected Rob.

Searching for Pemberley grabbed me from the first page, and I was so lost in the story that I was reading 50-page chunks on the train and bus and almost missing my stop. Simonsen writes from the first person viewpoint of Maggie, but her use of storytelling is what makes the narrative shine... Simonsen did a great job crafting the story of the Laceys-making them different enough from the Darcys to keep the story fresh-and seamlessly weaving in Jack and Beth's story. I actually was surprised how much the book dealt with the topic of war and its impact, which makes Searching for Pemberley so much more than a re-telling of Pride and Prejudice. Honestly, the Jane Austen aspect of the story is just one part of the puzzle...

I found the entire book interesting, and Simonsen did an admirable job moving between the Regency, Great War, and World War II settings. I never expected to discover a book that successfully merges two of my primary reading interests into one story, so you can bet this gem of a novel will hold a special place on my shelf.

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