Monday, April 20, 2015

The Bad Miss Bennet by Jean Burnett

Posted by Rebecca Brendel

Reviewed by: Becky Brendel

What I Read: The Bad Miss Bennet by Jean Burnett

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: After her husband's death in the Battle of Waterloo, Lydia Wickham (of Pride & Prejudice infamy) determines to make her own way in the world instead of obeying her stuffy brother-in-law, Mr. Darcy. Misadventures dog her heels across the European continent, however, as she finds herself entangled in a matter of international diplomacy - and encounters a singularly attractive, if roguish, highwayman.

What I Thought: Aside from matching Lydia's narrative style to the way she speaks in the original Pride & Prejudice, Burnett chooses to put her own spin on this unofficial "sequel": Lydia tells the story in first person, gets up to all sorts of explicit romantic misadventures, and spends as little time as possible with the original Pride & Prejudice cast. This works in Burnett's favor, since of the rest of the cast, only Darcy ends up sounding remotely like himself - as seen through Lydia's eyes, granted, which makes for some of the most humorous scenes in the book. Burnett even manages to parody the infamous "pond scene" from the A&E miniseries; the reference was self-indulgent, but I laughed anyway.

The plot itself resembles one of the "sensation" novels Lydia loves so much (likely on purpose - a nice way to nod to the period while matching the plot to its heroine's character). Lydia falls victim to a highwayman's charms, is embroiled in the theft of some royal jewels, nearly ends up a "kept woman", and remains blissfully unaware that her attempts to live "independently" really just put her at the beck and call of others. The book even reads like a serial novel, with several standalone episodes taking Lydia all over both England and Europe before loosely wrapping up towards the end. Since so many of these escapades were predictable, however, I can't honestly say I read this book for the plot.

Lydia herself, though, makes a wonderful storyteller. She's sprightly and honest with herself about what she wants (especially when those priorities are shallow); she just has no idea how to go about getting it without also getting into trouble. But because her perspective is unique and unreliable, she makes an engaging first-person narrator. Lydia may never learn from her mistakes, and I wouldn't want to be her friend - but I'd happily listen to her tell stories at parties.

Readalikes: Anything by Georgette Heyer, for more Regency-era romance; Longbourn by Jo Baker, for a much bleaker take on the Pride & Prejudice story. (And Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James, if you just can't get enough of stories where Wickham dies.)

Or look this book up on NoveList!