FULL DISCLOSURE: Ann Herendeen is a good friend of mine, and I am mentioned in her Dedication of this book. Until I actually had the book in my hands, though, I never read so much as a single sentence of this book; however, as a friend, I certainly encouraged her as a writer and said the kinds of things cheerleaders say to their friends who are challenging themselves to create something of value. In that regard, I applauded every word, and probably every semicolon and exclamation point. Writers, even previously published ones like Ann, need feedback, and mine was of the conceptual, emotional and existential variety, i.e., yes writing is glorious, yes it sucks, yes it’s where we love to live, yes it’s a dreadful place to be, etc etc. I do not feel that my friendship precludes my ability to write a book review of a friend’s book, and yet I claim no particular objectivity, either. So! Make of this disclosure, and my review, what you will.
I absolutely LOVED this book. I appreciate the manner in which Ann Herendeen paid tribute to Jane Austen without mimicking her. I thoroughly enjoyed how the plot twists, while staying true to the thrust of the original story, drew life, and a wonderful sense of life, by the very nature of the differences Herendeen created to make her story as plausible as Austen’s. I also think Jane would roll her eyes and roll over in her grave were she to read this. Not because she wouldn’t like it, but rather, because she would think: The jig is up, I’ve been found out, let’s dance!
Jane Austen wrote the book she could write. Ann Herendeen wrote the book Ann Herendeen wanted to write. For Austen purists, if, indeed, there really is such a thing, I believe you would shudder at Pride/Prejudice, and the shuddering would be not entirely without delight!
For others, I think the author’s implicit request that one expand one’s imagination, might be too much to ask. And for yet another group, I think their belief in an all-powerful and loving God does not, under any circumstance, include homosexuals, bisexuals and lesbians. So they really should not read this book because the sex alone is shockingly, wonderfully, deliciously sinful. By the way, there’s no way one can look at the cover of this book and read the first page without realizing the same-sex nature and inclinations of the two main male characters. So, it’s OK to say you hate it, it’s OK to say you love it; it’s not OK to say you were shocked—shocked I tell you!—to discover two men making love with one another and, quite separately, of course, with their wives. Oh, sorry, didn‘t mean to reveal that much.
No, Pride/Prejudice is for readers who love the well-turned phrase, who demand a plot and storyline that keeps moving and who want characters and dialog that remind them of the original reasons they loved Jane Austen, while being frankly happy to read something that uniquely resonates with their own lives.
As Herendeen says in her essay at the back of the book “The Story Behind Pride/Prejudice,” her own story “…is a way of bringing to light the alternative universe that was invisible in Austen’s time.” As even the most casual observer of marginalized people could agree, the invisibility first, of women, and second, of the subcultures of homosexuals, bisexuals and lesbians, did not preclude individual members of these groups from pursuing, in whatever manner least likely to get them hung, their inherent passions and preferences.
And, as with Austen, Herendeen completely convinces that the people in her world are passionate creatures with high moral standards that are measured against and coexist with a very fallible and human nature. Like most moral dilemmas, the prevailing one in Pride/Prejudice involves lies of both omission and commission; in that environment, Herendeen brings her characters to life as they make sound and unsound, moral and unmoral, thoughtful and thoughtless conclusions that support their own narrow first impressions. As I read some of the other reviews, I can’t help but think some of the readers of Pride/Prejudice have missed the irony inherent in their own disparagement of Herendeen‘s book as a trope right out of that very book!
Ann Herendeen’s writing reveals a level of sophistication, subtlety and prowess of language mastery that most writers and authors wish they had. She dispatches her dialog, the characters and the storyline with an ease that belies the difficulty of taking a beloved story and making it one’s own.
For anyone familiar with fan fiction, (and for anyone who has had the talent and skill to move beyond it), Pride/Prejudice is a delightful, beautifully written recreation of the way it very well might have been.
I knew Ann was great with dialogue when I read her first book, Phyllidia and the Brotherhood of Philander, but the way she captures the tonal coloration of the world in which the Pride/Prejudice characters live is completely rewarding for its believability, authenticity and rigorous reflection of the times. All the good emotional satisfaction one had when reading Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is redoubled and brought forward to us by a 21st century author who perfectly captures the voices of the Elizabeth, Darcy, Bingley and others that you know and gives them words, and a world, you may or may not know.
I especially liked Herendeen’s virtuoso ability with Elizabeth: To put this character’s even-handed sensibilities and turn of phrase together with a so-called modern configuration of loves and lovers and make it utterly credible, leaves this reader convinced that Ann Heredeen may very well have written the book social convention would not have allowed Jane Austen to write. That makes it all the more satisfying that a modern-day heir apparent has.
I think Ann Herendeen is a remarkably gifted writer from whom we are going to hear a great deal more.
For more information on the author, Ann Herendeen, with links to buy her books, go here.