Thursday, 7 April 2022

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow is a book I've had on my radar for several years now. It seems to divide the crowd a bit, I notice on Goodreads that there are a lot of 4 and 5 star reviews but also quite a few 2 stars. I fancy though that this is ever the way with Jane Austen adaptations, they are loved and loathed in equal measure, an equal opportunities genre if ever there was one!

 

 

I'm going to warn of a few spoilers in my review, if you want to read this book and know nothing about it then maybe don't read all of the following.

So the first quarter or so of this book shadows the events of Pride and Prejudice somewhat. Not entirely, as Mary, the sister that this book focusses on, was not always present in that of course. Plus, we see her in her childhood, happily keeping company with Jane and Lizzie until one day she overhears a conversation between her mother and her sister, Mrs. Phillips, and realises with horror that she is plain. Not only that, she has four very pretty sisters and beside them she will never shine. It's the start of the Mary we see in P&P, very bookish, a bit priggish, a figure of fun.

Janice Hadlow takes quite another sort of approach to Mary. Why is she like that? We're all a product of our upbringing and Mary is no different. Between her father's indifference and hatred of anything that disturbs his peace and her mother's selfishness and dislike of anything that doesn't match her view of 'pretty', sits Mary, desperately trying to attract her father's attention and trying equally as hard to avoid her mother's. It's incredibly sad. She's made to feel dowdy and uninteresting, so that's what she becomes. 

The catalyst happens when Mr. Bennet dies and Longbourn has to be vacated so that the Collins family can take up residence. Four of the sisters are married so are not much affected. Mrs. Bennet and Mary go to the Bingleys but somebody there is determined to make sure Mary is unhappy. And thus begins Mary's search for a family to take her in. 

Well, you'll probably have guessed by now that I come into the '5' star category on Goodreads. I thought this was an amazing book. To take a character who is not heavily featured in a classic and create a whole life for her is an amazing acheivement to my mind. Not only that but to turn her into a thinking, feeling, intelligent woman who, rather than being a figure of fun, was actually someone we should feel mightily sorry for. 'Plain', unmarried women with no income had very few choices back then. But even Mary realises that she is better off than some, citing the example of the single woman who comes to teach the sisters the piano who lives in poverty and has no one.

What struck me so forcibly about Mary's situation is how very few people gave a damn what happened to her. Her own mother, although that did not surprise me, Jane and Lizzie, very wrapped up in their own married bliss, Charlotte Collins in a strained marriage, none of them seemed to have any idea that Mary had nowhere to go. Thankfully, she does eventually find a place to be and then the book takes another turn completely as Mary discovers that she is a worthwhile person with a right to exist and to be loved. A whole section takes place in The Lake District and I think for me those were the best chapters. There are misunderstandings and unrequited love and internal wranglings and all the things that make up a good romance, so I think you could read this and enjoy it even if you're not really into Pride and Prejudice.

I'm pretty certain that The Other Bennet Sister is going to be in my top five books for 2022, it was just wonderful. I believe it's Janice Hadlow's only fiction book to date, I 'sincerely' hope she has more planned.


20 comments:

Unknown said...

Cath I agree wholeheartedly that this story is a 5. I was give this book for Christmas and enjoyed it from start to finish.
Sue

Noël said...

It is me, Noël, and I will now look for this book. The premise sounds very interesting and I can relate to it easily with being a middle child, not as pretty as her sister.

DesLily said...

Another "beloved" book for my Sis! I don't think there are many that you read that you don't wind up liking!! It's always good when the book winds up "special" !! xoxoxoxoxo

Lark said...

I was on the fence about this book because I really don't like Mary. But you've convinced me that I need to give it a try. :D

Sam Sattler said...

I've been looking at this one on and off for what seems like quite a long time. You've convinced me finally to try it, I think. I like this kind of thing, generally, so I'm pretty sure I'll like it - especially since you enjoyed it so much.

Cath said...

Sue: It's funny sometimes... the minute you start a book you know you're going to love it and that was the case with this one.

Cath said...

Noel: How nice to see you here! You said on FB that you'd bought the book so I do hope you enjoy it. I didn't have a pretty sister but was always aware, growing up, that I was the studious, bookish one with glasses in my class at school and not one of the popular, pretty girls. So, like you, I can relate to Mary.

Cath said...

Pat: Yes, another beloved book. Yep, I do end up liking most of the books I read but don't 'love' that many.

Cath said...

Lark: The author has a whole new slant on Mary that is so fascinating and it's just a really well written, excellent, absorbing novel.

Cath said...

Sam: It's so worth giving this one a try. I liked the way the author gave so many reasons for Mary to be as she was. Plus, it's just so well written.

TracyK said...

I stopped reading at the point where you pointed out that there would be spoilers and skipped to the last paragraph, and saw that you really liked the book. So I will put it on a list to read. Only drawback is the length but it sounds interesting.

CLM said...

Wow, I feel almost ashamed for not appreciating Mary in the past and I am going to run out to get this one! What a great and thoughtful review (I wondered where you were).

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

After reading Noel's comments and your own reply, I can totally relate to your description of Mary too! I only had a brother, so no competition at home. However I was never one of the popular girls at school, always slightly overweight, never allowed to roam the streets at night time, and always with my nose stuck in a book or my homework, which I actually enjoyed doing!!

I don't generally go for this type of story, as I my general rule is that a classic should remain a classic and shouldn't be changed, re-worked, extended or modernised. However I know that I am very much in the minority with my views and I am rather intrigued to know why you enjoyed this book so much, so I might just need to try it for myself.

Who knows? A whole new genre of fiction might open up for me to add to my 'wish list' - as if I really needed it! :) :)

Mary said...

Absolutely agree with you, Cath. Hadlow took Austen's brief sketch of Mary and turned it into a beautiful life-sized painting. Full of depth and colour. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Definitely one of my top 5.

Cath said...

Tracy: The funny thing is when I started reading this book on my Kindle I didn't really realise how long it was. LOL But it was ok as I was a bit of a page turner and I found I was through it in three days.

Cath said...

Constance: This is a very worthwhile read and don't worry, I had no idea either. Like I said, the crowd is divided a bit but I have a strong feeling you would like it, if only for the superb writing.

Cath said...

Yvonne: Like you I just had a brother at home so there was no competition but at school it was different. I was not allowed to wander the streets at night, had no wish to to be honest, and also was not allowed to go to dances. And snap! I really liked doing my homework too, was quite competitive about school really, and always had my nose in a book.

I think I feel a bit like you about messing with classics but this felt different somehow. I think because so little is known about Mary that someone writing a book just about her does not feel like an infringement. Odd, but there you go.



Cath said...

Mary: I think it was you who left a comment on one of my posts months ago, advising me to get around to The Other Bennet Girl as soon as possible. You were dead right! Such a brilliant read.

Margot Kinberg said...

Sorry I'm late to the party, Cath, but I found your review helpful! It's very hard to take a classic like that one, and offer a completely different perspective on it. I give Hadlow a lot of credit for taking that risk. I'm very glad you enjoyed the novel, too.

Cath said...

Margot: No problem at all. So pleased you found my review helpful, the book is well worth a try if you haven't read it already.