I started this book in a week when – for various reasons – I was feeling stressed out and in need of something to cheer me up. Almost immediately, I realised that I had found it. I was alternately laughing out loud and gasping at the sheer, bold brilliance of it. There are a several Austen ‘sequels’ out there, but this isn’t a sequel, nor is it quite a parody, although it has something of parody about it.
Years ago, an English Lecturer pointed out to me that parody is an artform, and by no means as easy as people might believe. You have to know the original work inside out, you have to love it, and you have to have great facility and skill with words yourself. Valerie Laws has all of these and more. The closest I can come to finding a parallel for this novel is the film Clueless. They are different, of course, but if you enjoyed that movie, with its shameless reshaping of Emma, you’ll probably like this. If you’re a serious Janeite, you might be horrified, but it’s clear that Laws is a writer who not only knows her stuff, where the original is concerned, but loves it too.
I’ve always had a sneaking liking for the bold, bad Lydia Bennet, suspecting that she might fare better in a modern world than any of her sisters. This novel takes that premise and runs with it. This is the story of Pride and Prejudice according to Lydia, narrated by the heroine herself -‘fifteen but fabulous’ – and I have no idea why it hasn’t yet found a mainstream publisher, but can only assume it’s because of conventional publishing’s singular reluctance to go out on a limb in any way. Or maybe they were just nervous of the Darcy fanbase’s reaction. ‘Gah, and thrice gah!’ as Lydia would say.
Lydia is, of course, obsessed with fashion, the military and her own drop dead gorgeousness. (‘Yay!’ ) Bingley is ‘Blingers’. Darcy is his ‘bezzie mate’. Lydia stuffs ratafia glasses into her reticule and uses them to eavesdrop on her sisters’ conversations, then relates the story for us in her own inimitable style.
‘Jane’s caught a cold and is ill in bed. Ma is delighted, though I don’t see how it helps if Bingley sees Jane wearing a red nose and snot jewellery.’
But of course Lydia’s perspective on events is quite different from Austen’s. This is hardly surprising, since this Bennet sister is a force to be reckoned with and manipulates events with a combination of unscrupulousness, cunning, and enviable insight into human nature – spiced with the reckless innocence of youth – that put me in mind of a young Becky Sharp. Not once, though, does the novel ever stop making sense in terms of the story of the original. In fact sometimes it is quite jaw droppingly illuminating.
I loved it for its irreverence, its humour, its intelligence and its energy, from a whole new (and – let’s face it – perfectly credible) angle on Mr Collins and Charlotte Lucas, to a less than reverent depiction of the sainted Mr Darcy. Laws clearly knows the original and its milieu very well indeed. One of the joys of this book is the constant realisation that, yes, it could have happened exactly like this. Prepare to be amused, entertained, and dazzled. A very good read indeed.
Reviewed by Catherine Czerkawska
Lydia Bennet’s Blog is available in Kindle format
Find out more about Valerie Laws here