Monday, January 27, 2014

DNF Review: Death Comes to Pemberley

This is my first-ever DNF review, and while I'm disappointed how it all came about, I am fully confident in my decision to stop trying to enjoy this book at about 40% of the way through. It's a sad occasion, but I'm determined, because this just wasn't a very good book.

Death Comes to Pemberley, by P.D. James, details the story of the famous fictional house's residents - Mrs. Elizabeth and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy - as what was originally supposed to be a time of excitement and celebration takes a turn for the macabre, when the oft-shunned Lydia Wickham stumbles out of a coach screaming that someone has killed her husband.

I don't have to remind you that I'm an Austen lover, right? Because the intense amount of excitement that followed the promise of George Wickham's murder would have clued you in otherwise. From the very blurb on the back of the cover, the novel promises excitement, a bit of gore, a mystery, and a fair amount of comeuppance for one of Austen's most despicable fellas. However, I'm going to puncture that little bit of hope that ballooned up in front on anyone who thought that this description actually sounded interesting: Wickham's not dead, and it's figured out in about the first 50 pages or so. What's worse, is that it didn't even take that long to figure out that this ain't no work of Austen. Let me explain...

Reasons (Besides That Wickham Isn't Actually Dead) That I Hated This Book: 

  • DCtP is, essentially, fanfiction. And that's not knocking fan fiction: sometimes you really wonder about what happens after the end of a story, and it's interesting to hear other fans' takes on the matter. However, when a work is proclaimed to carry the voice of the author as transposed into another era, you're immediately attuned to the fact that the author is writing with an adopted pen. By the end of the first chapter, I had already ticked off in my head everything Austen wouldn't have done... wouldn't have mentioned war, wouldn't have mentioned the names of minor servants (and certainly wouldn't have main one of them a main figure in the story), wouldn't have pointedly remarked on the political state of England, etc. The shoe, simply put, does not fit. 
  • Our favorite characters are given significantly ill treatment. Anyone who read Pride and Prejudice can attest to the enduring devotion that holds fast in the heart of any Austenian for that indomitable pairing. Layman's terms: Liz + Darcy= 5Ever. And yet, in this novel, our darling Lizzie's sparkling wit and playfulness are reduced to a simpering servitude, and Darcy is transformed into a wooden, stoic, and heavy-handed wall for her to bounce off of. They are never acknowledged as the rightful team they are - even by Regency era standards - and get rare amounts of time together at all. Minor characters are transformed into stock and static, which I can't stand either: Jane's not a saint, and Lydia's not a petulant idiot (well, not completely). There's complexity of character that was sacrificed for the complexity of plot, which, let's face it, was also pretty useless. 
  • If anyone actually wanted CSI: Regency Gentility Unit, they would have already made the TV show. And that's both a comment on the enduring nature of the television show and the exploitation of classic literature for popular entertainment format (here's looking at you, Elementary). But what is admittedly interesting about the concept of a period piece procedural is simply undermined by the sheer stupidity of police procedural standards for this time period! What they did was pretty basic stuff, and yet, we are subjected to in-depth descriptions of every aspect... even if it's just everyone staring at a dead guy on a table (What do you mean the victim's extreme and bloody amount of blunt force head trauma is the real cause of death? Well, you're the doctor). 
  • Send this one off to the Department of Redundancy Department. At the beginning of nearly every chapter - and then again, in more depth, at the beginning of each of the novel's individual sections, we are subjected to a rehash of the previous action, and given a role call of the mystery's key players in the matter. Do we need to be reminded of what's going on every 20 pages? Admittedly, maybe they were wondering whether the reader would have stopped paying attention between them. 
Regardless of the numerous other stumbling blocks thrown in my way by the book that came between me and contentment, I'm going to cut myself off here. Thank goodness I only paid $1 for it, and now I don't have to wonder about why a near-new copy was sitting on the shelf of a Goodwill's fiction section anyways. 

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