23rd Oct 2012
Who Needs Mr Darcy? by Jean Burnett
Many reworkings of Jane Austen‘s classic focus on the Darcys themselves: depending on who you read, they either have the most erotic relationship since Clan of the Cave Bear (Mr Darcy Takes A Wife by Linda Berdoll) or else Darcy is secretly in love with his manservant (the utterly dreadful The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet).
This animated and joyous read continues the story of Lydia Bennet, the youngest of the sisters who causes so much trouble in the original book.
In this version, Wickham is dead, after a less than glorious turn at the Battle of Waterloo, and Lydia is left penniless, dependent on the generosity (or lack thereof) of her brother-in-law Mr Darcy.
Determined to make her own way in the world, and more importantly to dance at Almack’s, Lydia goes to stay with friends Selena and Miles in London, where her adventures really begin.
The novel is told in the first person, Lydia is a delightful narrator, at once incredibly naïve and silly, whilst also singularly selfish and self-interested.
As she hurtles from adventure to adventure, you can’t help but be swept along with her whirlwind life. The only criticism is parts of this book seemed a little rushed in order to cram in as many exciting things as possible – especially an incident including the Prince Regent, which I would have like to have seen explored a bit more.
Lydia does everything and goes everywhere that it is possible for a young lady of limited (but a hell of a lot more than most) means. Accompanied by her faithful maid Adelaide (one of the best characters in the book, Adelaide is reminiscent of Nan from Forever Amber, a book which frequently came to mind as I read this one) she takes in London, Bath, Paris, Venice, various parts of Italy and much more.
From dalliances with corrupt bankers to encounters with Lord Byron, Lydia takes it all in her stride and pulls her bodice down low. The rest of her family seem positively dull by comparison.
This is in no way a serious book, but it isn’t one to be written off either. Like the best kind of chick lit it is witty, speedy and fun. The writer is obviously a massive Pride and Prejudice fan (the inclusion of Mr Beveridge’s ‘Maggot’ at one of the many balls forced me to suppress a small chuckle on the bus) and the period details included, such as the history of restaurants, make this an informative as well as a enjoyable read.
Austen stalwarts may be disgusted with the corruption of their Jane, but, like the Gothic horrors Lydia so enjoys, this is a guilty pleasure that nobody need actually feel guilty about.
It’s also about ten times more readable than most of the “sequels” I’ve read, and leaves you on a horrible cliff-hanger that promises more… here’s hoping.
Who Needs Mr Darcy? was published on 27th September in paperback by Sphere and is available from Foyles, Amazon or your local bookshop priced at £6.99, and is also available for Kindle priced at £3.99.
Other recommended reading: Set 150 years earlier, Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor remains the undisputed queen of the historical romp.