Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Review: The Darcys & the Bingleys by Marsha Altman

Up at the altar, Darcy and Bingley turned to the aisle where their brides would be appearing momentarily.  "Any last words?" Bingley whispered.

"Chapter 15."

"What -- Darcy!  We're in church!"

"I was of course discussing the book of Leviticus.  I don't know why your mind is so filthy these days, Bingley."

"That's your fault!"

"You asked for my advice, and you have it.  Chapter 15."  (from The Darcys & the Bingleys, pages 110-111)

In The Darcys & the Bingleys, Marsha Altman picks up Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice just before Mr. Darcy marries Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Bingley marries Jane Bennet.  In the midst of the chaos of planning a wedding, there is some talk about the nervousness of the wedding night.  While Charlotte Collins assures Elizabeth and Jane that it's not as bad as Mrs. Bennet makes it out to be, Bingley turns to the reserved Darcy -- and Darcy's advice is a copy of The Kama Sutra.  This makes for some hilarious conversation.

With the couples settling into married life at their respective estates, the plot turns to Caroline Bingley, Mr. Bingley's arrogant sister who, in Pride and Prejudice, works to keep her brother and Jane apart and hates that Elizabeth catches the eye of Mr. Darcy, whom she hopes to wed.  She's being courted by a Lord Kincaid, and there's something about this Scot that rubs Bingley the wrong way, prompting him to seek Darcy's help in digging up whatever dirt they can find on him.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Darcys & the Bingleys and found myself laughing out loud quite frequently.  This is the most amusing Austen sequel I've come across thus far, and I appreciate how Altman makes the characters her own without compromising the original story.  The book is filled with witty dialogue, and I loved the bantering between Elizabeth and Darcy and Darcy and Bingley.  Moreover, I was thrilled that Altman included numerous scenes with Mr. Bennet, whose humor is among my favorite things about Pride and Prejudice.  Some of the best dialogue occurs when an injured Darcy is high on laudanum.
"Your brother is...indisposed," Elizabeth said, a smile creeping back across her face.  "Dr. Maddox gave him something for pain that has made him muddle-headed."

"Oh.  Well, let me through, then.  Should I not have my fair share?"

"Georgiana--."  Bingley put up some protest, but she sideswiped him and went right to her brother's side and took his hand, waking him from his light sleep.

"Brother," she said with a very serious voice.

"Georgiana," he smiled.  "Sweet Georgiana."

"I am affianced.  I have found the most disreputable bachelor in Town, and I will marry him at Gretna Green on Sunday."

This was a very long sentence for Darcy to comprehend, if he was comprehending anything at all.  "All right...then."

"So you give your consent?"

"Of course.  But first I must...castrate him...before the ceremony."

Any pretense that laughter was going to be held in by the two onlookers was now entirely abandoned.  They all had to leave the room very quickly.  As they left, they missed Darcy mumbling, "Kill...you all..."  (pages 301-302)
Given that The Darcys & the Bingleys chronicles the early days of the couples' marriages, of course, there is sex talk.  How can there not be when The Kama Sutra is involved?  However, the scenes are humorous and tastefully done and not at all graphic.  Thankfully, Altman leaves much to the imagination.

Altman creates new and exciting characters and merges them into the lives of the Darcys and the Bingleys quite seamlessly, from the shady Lord Kincaid to the quiet Dr. Maddox.  It almost felt like they'd been there all along.

Some readers might be concerned about Altman's treatment of their beloved characters, especially Mr. Darcy who is not at all the arrogant ass he was in Pride and Prejudice.  But marriage, and Elizabeth in particular, has changed Darcy, and I think Altman does a great job handling the character's evolution.  I think it's important to emphasize that Altman isn't trying to rewrite Pride and Prejudice; she's building upon and broadening the world that Austen created.  And considering all the laughing I did when reading and the fact that I breezed through more than 400 pages in just a couple of days, I'd say Altman was successful.

Stay tuned for my reviews of the next two books in the series, The Plight of the Darcy Brothers and Mr. Darcy's Great Escape.

This is the third book I've read for the Jane Austen Challenge.

Disclosure: I purchased my copy of The Darcys & the Bingleys.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

This sounds really fun. I just finished watching the movie Persuasion and also had fun (although I would have liked a bit more display of passion at the end - I suppose one needs Keira Knightly for that). I don't know why I don't just break down and do the challenge, because I really like all the Jane Austen permutations so much!

Suko said...

Superb review, Anna. I'd love to read this one.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I have yet to travel down the path of the Austen permutations, probably because Austen is still new to me and I feel I need to read more of the original stuff first. But this review makes me want to trash that strategy. Austen has such a great sense of humor, and it sounds like this author has captured that, and put her own spin on it!

Dana said...

This sounds like one of the better Austen spinoffs I've been hearing about lately - I'll definitely be checking it out!

Julie P. said...

I love that the author incorporates so much humor into then novel. I haven't read a ton of these types of books but I am always surprised by how funny they are.

Hazra said...

This sounds hilarious! Thanks for the great review!

bermudaonion said...

I tried one Austen sequel and it didn't do much for me. This one sounds so much better, though - I just might have to give it a try.

Serena said...

I hope to read these books now that you are done with them. They sound like fun!

Blodeuedd said...

Sounds fun, oh wanna read it :D

Stephanie said...

I have been balking at reading any of the modern-day Austen spin-offs, but the way you described this book -- especially the evolution of Darcy's character and the strong presence of Mr. Bennett's sense of humor -- has really piqued my interest.

samantha.1020 said...

I read this one as well and really enjoyed it. I've been meaning to read the other books that this author has written but I haven't had the chance yet. Great review!

Hannah Stoneham said...

this does sound fun... there is a relatively new collection of short stories called "Dancing with Mr Darcy" which is very good. It is edited by Sarah Waters and all of the stories are inspired by Jane Austen. Thanks for sharing, love the pink in your blog! Hannah

Jeanne said...

I reviewed this one way back when it first came out (chapter by chapter, with J. Kaye), and observed that the second half of the book is much faster-paced and more of its own story (less of the sequel feeling).

Stephanie said...

This is probably my most favorite P&P sequel - I too laughed out loud while reading it!

Anna said...

rhapsodyinbooks: I'd love to see Persuasion. I'm glad to find someone else who enjoys all the Jane Austen stuff.

Suko: Thanks!

Sandy: The sense of humor is what makes this Austen sequel shine. I hope you give it a try at some point.

Dana: I'm looking forward to your thoughts, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Julie: For me, when it comes to Austen sequels, I enjoy the humorous ones and the ones similar to Austen's writing style best.

Hazra: Thanks for stopping by!

bermudaonion: I'm curious as to which Austen sequel you read. There are some good ones out there, so I hope you don't give up on them for good!

Serena: Just let me know when you want to borrow them.

Blodeuedd: You should! I think you'd really enjoy this one.

Stephanie: This one is set in Austen's time and uses Austen's characters in a creative way. Hope you give it a try at some point.

samantha.1020: Thanks for stopping by! I hope you get to read the rest of the series soon.

Hannah: Thanks! I'll have to check that one out.

Jeanne: I definitely agree with you.

Stephanie: It's one of my favorites, too.