Thursday, April 2, 2009

Review from "Church of Nu-Topia"

The Darcys and the Bingleys, Marsha Altman

I had read this on the ride home from Lunacon, hoping it would serve as a palate cleanser for Twilight. While it was certainly funny in a way Twilight could never be (ie deliberately), with a few genuine laugh-out-loud moments, I was fairly disappointed.

In which I recount the ways Darcy is transformed into someone else.

This book starts several days before the Bennet sisters' double-wedding. Usually, the P&P sequels start the day of or the day after the wedding, and only show the days leading up to the ceremony as a reminiscence if they're shown at all. However, the chapter opens with Bingley trying to ask Darcy for advice--which, on its own, is not terribly surprising. However, what Bingley's looking for is advice about sex, as he doesn't want to disappoint Jane. While I thought Darcy's initial reaction was fairly apt (ignoring the moderately unlikely premise that Bingley would ask him about that in the first place) with him getting all stuffy, his secondary reaction fell a little short of the mark. He races off to London to purchase Charles a copy of a sex manual translated from India. Now, the back cover calls it the Kama Sutra, but that’s a publisher’s error, not the author’s. You can go back and check the text; nowhere does she specify that it is the Kama Sutra. However, the Ananga Ranga makes an appearance later on, which won't be translated and printed until '85, but everyone seems to be pig-piling on a mistake that was not Altman’s.

Chapter One ends with Bingley getting ready to tell a story about a party he and Darcy attended back when they went to Cambridge together. However, instead of just telling the story, Chapter Two opens with the date: 1795. I can't explain how much that annoyed me. It's like on when people use ==Darcy's POV== to indicate a point of view switch (which, I was not-entirely-surprised to discover was a more apt comparison than I'd assumed at the time, but I'll get to that). If I can't tell that you've switched POV's without you announcing it and interrupting the flow of your story, YOU HAVE PROBLEMS. Anyway, I felt that the entire sequence was clumsily handled. At other points, she has characters remembering things they had done previously without too much of a problem; but then other times she'd feel the need to cut to a flashback. In this flashback, we see what will be a common theme throughout the book: Darcy's inability to handle alcohol. Just for ha-ha's, I started keeping track of how many times Darcy was depicted as drunk. I gave up after five, cause I just didn't want to know any more. It was like trying to count the number of times 'perfect,' 'angel[ic],' or 'dazzling' was used in Sorry, forgot, saving my snark for my review of that book--although I bet you could guess what book I was gonna say, couldn't you?

After that flashback, we skip forward to page 93 and Darcy pitching Wickham out a second story window into a pile of manure (why there was a manure pile up next to the manor is beyond my guess). And all this before the wedding!

I could go on and on, but there are a few things that Altman got right, and I feel she deserves credit for them. As OOC as she had Darcy acting, she certainly got his voice down. Elizabeth's, too, as well as the tenor of their relationship. Oh, and also Mr. Bennet's. Basically, she made sure there was enough Austen-ian wit in there to keep me amused. As I said, there were some perfectly lovely lines in the book:

[After Darcy has related a story about (drunkenly!) punching Wickham in the face in university over a nickname]: "So, you are saying that if I call you 'Fitzers,' you will strike you wife?"
"No, of course not. I will politely say in a very respectful and quiet voice, 'Dearest Lizzy, love of my life, if you call me that again, I will have no recourse but to annul our marriage and send you to a nunnery in Ireland.'"

and: "I say, my daughters seem to be in some kind of competition. The first husband I must pay; the second I have no obligations to; and the third pays me. Mary, if this pattern is to continue, I will consent to you marrying a man of no less than twenty thousand pounds a year. And Kitty, nothing less than royalty will do. I perhaps will settle for Scottish royalty, but only if he truly loves you."

She also has Elizabeth continue to call her husband 'Darcy' after the wedding. This is purely a personal thing, but I prefer 'Darcy' to 'Fitzwilliam.' Fitzwilliam is just too long, doesn't break down into nicknames very well, and lacks the feeling of romance. I mean, it's easy to say, "Oh, Darcy." But, "Oh, Fitzwilliam"? I don't think so. Go ahead, say it. Okay, now try it again without Fitzwilliam sounding stupid. Ha! I told you.

The second quarter of the book passes fairly uneventfully (wedded bliss, believable voice, Darcy gets drunk, Jane and Lizzy breed, etc etc), until Charles is called away to give his consent to Caroline's soon-to-be-fiance. Uneasy with the man and unsure why, Bingley sends for Darcy, and they play private eye in London. Grumpy about being left out of the action, Lizzy convinces her father to go on an excursion to Scotland (the prospective groom's homeland) to do a little digging of her own. Of course, the man turns out to be a blackguard; there's a thrilling scene where Darcy is nearly murdered, saved at the last minute by Bingley and Elizabeth who somehow manage to sneak into the guy's lodgings, I don't even know anymore; and Caroline Bingley ends up marrying a doctor--the same doctor who has been called in to treat Mr. Hurst's gout.

Caroline Bingley marries a man in trade. True, he was born into a respectable family, but his elder brother wasted the estate on gambling and drink (Darcy, are you paying attention?!) and so now he has to work to support himself. Clearly, Darcy isn't the only one who got tapped by the OOC-fairy. And, it turns out, underneath her cold and bitchy exterior, is the heart of a warm and kind woman. Or something.

And then everyone gets locked into their rooms at Pemberley while the blackguard and the doctor's brother team up to exact revenge, and the book ends with Darcy getting drunk.

The end.

All that nonsense aside, this book is actually going to get a decent grade. It amused me, which was its main purpose, and, like I said, Altman somehow manages to get the characters completely right even as she gets them completely wrong. It's a fast read, and would be a decent book with (some better editing) and her own Regency characters. I believe a lot of my harshness stemmed from (what I saw as) the juxtaposition between their nigh-perfect voices and their OOC actions. I do find it telling that this book has its origins on, which I discovered at the end of the book. I'm not saying that to be impugn it or the author (hell, I'm on, but it clarified why I had certain problems with the book. She makes a lot of the same mistakes that fanfic authors often do (painful transitions, inserting drama for drama's own sake, OOC characters...).

2.5 stars (Mostly cause I LOL'd a few times.)

Of the two, that was the better book.