Saturday, August 21, 2010

Reviewing “Duty and Desire”

Title: Duty and Desire: A Novel of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman
Author: Pamela Aidan
Length: 280 pages
Publisher: Touchstone
ISBN: 978-0743291361
Final Verdict: 3 out of 5

Duty and Desire caught my eye one day in July, while I was browsing the New Books shelf at the local library. It’s cover had a flavour that I could appreciate: Romantic (with a capital “r”) and regency (without the bodice-ripping and/or cloying sentiment). Being “A Novel of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman”, it’s connection to Pride and Prejudice intrigued me. I make a practice of reading the (frankly, and awesomely) fan-penned sequels and prequels of the Jane Austen canon. I like continuations and transformations. It’s one of those things that will make me automatically consider a book, even if I don’t end up reading it.

Duty and Desire was one such continuation that I ended up reading. It’s Book Two in a trilogy that is, essentially, Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy’s point of view. Duty and Desire takes place during Darcy’s extensive holiday from the pages of P&P, and concerns his attempt to drive Elizabeth Bennet from his mind and find a more suitable wife. I wish I didn’t have to start with the second book—the first book sets the tone for Aidan’s work, and introduces readers to the world of P&P as seen by Darcy. But the libraries in my area are notorious for rarely carrying Book One of anything.

I liked the novel. The prose is solidly readable—if a little purple, in the spirit of the Regency—with that touch of courtly gentleness that suits the time period and evokes Austen’s prose more strongly than other sequels that I have read. Later in the novel, I was a little distracted by Aidan’s colourful use of speech tags: there were a few adverbs running rampant and "verbed" nouns.

The novel is a bit slow. The back cover promises more than is ever delivered in any kind of timely fashion. Case in point: "curious Lady Sylvanie", who, according to the back cover, is of some significance (Darcy considers her as a possible wife, and she has no objection), does not show up until long after I had had any hope of seeing her. And when she does appear, her role feels rushed, as if she were a last-minute decision.

None of the characters really captured my interest, or were especially memorable (if one, of course, does not count Darcy’s valet, Fletcher, whose habit of quoting Shakespeare I remember very well: it began to wear on me a little. I suspect that I’ve run into the “resourceful manservant” trope a few times too many—I found it difficult to appreciate Fletcher as a character).

Darcy himself is enough in character to be acceptable, though he doesn’t strike me as powerfully as he did in Pride and Prejudice. There really seemed to be… less of him, as if his POV waters down the impact of his character. Of the beloved cast of P&P, a few appear: Elizabeth Bennet, in thought and to Darcy’s aggravation; Georgiana Darcy, turning to religion for relief from her depression. But for all these familiar faces, Aidan’s world sometimes feels a little too bizarre to be credible: the book takes a gothic twist for the supernatural, and the result is disorienting.

While I appreciated the clarity of the rising action and its climax, the end of Duty and Desire was disappointing. The concluding twist(s) were expected twists; true, I didn't figure out the primary one until I was a page away from its revelation, but when it came, I experienced no thrill of astonishment, no jaw drop. The fate of the antagonist felt strangely random.

If I ever stumble across Book One and Two of the Fitzwilliam Darcy trilogy, I’ll read them. I like Aidan’s idea of exploring Darcy, and I’m curious to see how she handles him on territory more familiar to me: on the grounds of P&P itself.

1 comment:

  1. Purple prose? This is the first time I've heard of that. I've followed the link - sounds fascinating!

    I've read Pride and Prejudice, but only halfway ;), when I was taking literature at school. When you have to analyse every sentence and write tediously long essays, needless to say, I didn't find it very enjoyable. But, I'm sure I'll have a different take on it now!

    Duty and Desire sounds like a cute read. Lovely review!