Classic Litterature, Fiction, romance

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hallow

Themes: historical fiction, retelling; Pride and Prejudice

The synopsis

Mary, the bookish ugly duckling of Pride and Prejudice’s five Bennet sisters, emerges from the shadows and transforms into a desired woman with choices of her own.

What if Mary Bennet’s life took a different path from that laid out for her in Pride and Prejudice? What if the frustrated intellectual of the Bennet family, the marginalized middle daughter, the plain girl who takes refuge in her books, eventually found the fulfillment enjoyed by her prettier, more confident sisters? This is the plot of The Other Bennet Sister, a debut novel with exactly the affection and authority to satisfy Austen fans.

Ultimately, Mary’s journey is like that taken by every Austen heroine. She learns that she can only expect joy when she has accepted who she really is. She must throw off the false expectations and wrong ideas that have combined to obscure her true nature and prevented her from what makes her happy. Only when she undergoes this evolution does she have a chance at finding fulfillment; only then does she have the clarity to recognize her partner when he presents himself—and only at that moment is she genuinely worthy of love.

Mary’s destiny diverges from that of her sisters. It does not involve broad acres or landed gentry. But it does include a man; and, as in all Austen novels, Mary must decide whether he is the truly the one for her. In The Other Bennet Sister, Mary is a fully rounded character—complex, conflicted, and often uncertain; but also vulnerable, supremely sympathetic, and ultimately the protagonist of an uncommonly satisfying debut novel. 

The review

I’ll write this review in two parts since I took my noted that way during my reading.

Overall, the writing was good, close enough to Austen’s to make a credible retelling. The author obviously did her research on the era and is able to deliver detailed descriptions and explanations of the setting and the context. This is the main difference here with Austen since the reader isn’t supposed to know what we are talking about and the implications of what’s happening and said by the characters. I was even more surprised to see that the author even managed to grasp and give back Austen’s humour and wit while explaining more what was until now unknown to the reader.

The first part of the book, which is the ‘true’ retelling of Pride and Prejudice was incredible and my favourite. It gave voice to characters we barely hear in Austen’s original work: Charlotte Lucas, Mrs Hill, and obviously Mary. I felt the characters were earning a new depth, be it the main ones such as the Bennet family or the secondary ones.

This book succeeded in something I thought impossible: making me like Mary. At my first reading of Pride and Prejudice, I didn’t think much of her and during the (many) readings I then came to dislike her. But here, the author is giving us a plausible explanation for her behaviour.

If I had stopped here, I think this book would have been my favourite retelling of Austen’s work so far. Unfortunately, I didn’t and was a bit disappointed by the other (big) half of the book, which is taking place one year (if I remember correctly) after the ending of Pride and Prejudice. Even if I really enjoyed seeing more of the Gardiner and Mary becoming herself to finally finding happiness, I still felt this part was dragged on and much slower. I was hoping to see more of the original characters such as Elizabeth and Jane and their families but was cruelly disappointed. I feel that their relationships with Mary, launched in the first part, are not resolved by the end of the book. But my main reproach will be that it became difficult to recognise some characters so much they felt like entirely new ones, especially Charlotte Lucas (I even think that the author betrayed the original work by ending her friendship with Lizzy).

In brief: this retelling remains one of the best in my opinion, especially for the first part. It is ideal if you are drawn to Pride and Prejudice but are afraid of the original work.

My rating: 3.5/5


8 thoughts on “The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hallow”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s