Books

Just leave Jane Austen be -- please!

Some characters we can't get enough of, even after their creators are creating no more. Sherlock Holmes, Scarlett O'Hara, even Zorro have inspired sequels long after their original authors have died, for better or for worse. In some books, authors themselves serve as characters — at least two modern authors have cast Edgar Allan Poe as an amateur sleuth in their books.

A cottage industry, though, appears to have developed around "Pride and Prejudice." Readers want more of Jane Austen's beloved classic, and literally dozens of authors have created whole families, adventures and other intrigues for Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.

The good thing about such books is that they give us more of characters we love. The bad thing is that they can't ever be the same style or the same story as the originals. The really awful thing is when they are poorly done — and unfortunately there appear to be a lot of those out there.

I've enjoyed some of the Sherlock Holmes reimaginings — Laurie R. King's stellar Mary Russell series in particular — but I've avoided the Austen sequels. "Pride and Prejudice" is one of my all-time favorite books: It's well written, well plotted, well paced and ends perfectly. I've never felt that I needed more. I don't want Lizzie and Darcy solving mysteries. I don't want the story turned into a bodice-ripper. I don't want the story from Darcy's viewpoint. I don't want the Bennet sisters recast from a proto-feminist angle. And I especially don't want a "steamy paranormal retelling" of "Pride and Prejudice" (yes, this exists).

Plus, Austen's wit and plotting would be tough for anyone else to live up to without it reading like parody or ending up overblown, and the pages I've perused in various sequels did not strike the right tone.

But I felt that perhaps I was being a bit closed-minded, so I decided to give the much-talked-about " Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith (Quirk Books, 317 pages, $12.95) a go. It sounded just off-the-wall enough to be entertaining — really, zombies in Regency England?

I quit after about a hundred pages.

This may seem like a strange complaint, but "Zombies" didn't have enough zombies. It wasn't funny. It wasn't clever. It wasn't snarkily ironic. If anything, it hewed too closely to the original, afraid to change anything but superficial details. It was the CliffsNotes version of "Pride and Prejudice" with a few zombies tossed in. Most disappointing. Though I will say that the "reader's guide" questions at the end made me laugh out loud.

When I was discussing this with a friend, she told me about another Austen sequel, this one written nearly a century ago. Billed as "the first Jane Austen sequel ever written," "Old Friends and New Fancies" by Sybil G. Brinton (Sourcebooks, 377 pages, $14.95 paper) incorporates characters from all six Austen novels — more from "Pride and Prejudice" than from any of the others — into a story set not long after they all end. I gave that one a go, too.

Not being of the modern era, the author didn't have to resist the urge to modernize Austen's characters or her own story lines. She keeps the story contained to a few settings, as Austen did, and writes much in keeping with Austen's language. The story centers on the unattached, who are the subjects of matchmakings, misguided entanglements, and ultimately happy and apt pairings. "Old Friends" seemed to lack some of the sparkle of Austen, but was light and enjoyable. I think it's the last Austen sequel I'll read.

  Comments