The only classics I really loved are Jane Austen’s books and I’ve read them many many times, so these days it’s much more exciting for me to find contemporary authors reimagining her books or characters. And this book fascinated me right from the time I saw it on Edelweiss, because when have we ever thought more about Charlotte’s life after her marriage to Mr. Collins. I was very happy when I received this advance copy and I devoured this in just a few hours.
This is the author’s debut novel but you probably wouldn’t be able to guess that because the prose is absolutely beautiful and lyrical and so many other adjectives which I don’t even know. While I couldn’t put the book down at all, it is by no means a fast paced novel. It’s slow and languid and has a melancholic aesthetic to it, and you can feel every single feeling that the author wants you to. Days go by and the seasons change and that atmosphere is so perfectly captured that it amazed me. I also thought the author wrote about Charlotte’s loneliness in a way that deeply resonated with me.
It also helps that the author knows her P&P characters well and even though she is writing her own backstory and future story for them, you feel that these are the same people whom you have known since you first read the original and you are just getting to know them better now. I think it’s difficult to create a new story with familiar characters without being too disruptive, and I love that the author managed to create a perfect balance.
I’m pretty sure most of us pitied Charlotte for choosing marry Mr. Collins, maybe even looked down on her for compromising – but she knows what she did and why she had to make those choices. We get to know her so much more better in this book – her childhood dreams, the moment she realized she was never going to be a catch, and her decision to choose comfort and security over love.
She is a very kind hearted woman who is trying to make the best of her life, but there are also moments of self reflection, pain and loneliness, of thinking about what-ifs and wondering what more she can do. And the time when she realizes what emotional intimacy can feel like, what does it feel like to be seen and heard – her heartache and confusion was very poignant and beautifully written. I have to say I really empathized with her a lot and only wanted her to be happy.
Mr. Collins is the same person we know, giving his long winding opinions on everything and being extra deferential towards Lady Catherine. And while he can be annoying as ever, seeing him through Charlotte’s eyes brings a certain humanity to his character. He is not someone who is expressive or good at communicating true feelings, but she manages to get little glimpses of his true self and I thought that was done so sensitively.
Lady Catherine is her usual obnoxious self and I don’t think anyone can make her seem more sympathetic. I loved the two newly added characters Mr. Travis and Mrs. Fitzgibbon and the lovely friendship and companionship they brought to Charlotte, who was so starved for affection. And I was totally delighted to see her daughter Louisa grow up within the pages of the book. And I won’t deny that getting to meet Lizzy and Mr. Darcy was amazing, even if just for a couple of scenes.
To conclude, if you love Austen retellings or spinoffs, you should definitely try this book. It’s beautiful and evocative and completely captured my heart. I was probably in a fragile emotional state while reading it (and needed some catharsis it looks like) because I wept and wept through most of the second half. It’s not a sad book per se, but it does have a bit of that feeling permeating throughout – and while it made me cry, I don’t think it’ll elicit the same reaction in everyone. I’m so glad that I got the opportunity to read this book and I’m very much looking forward to see what the author writes next.
PS: Thank you to Edelweiss and William Morrow for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.