Saturday, May 16, 2009

Review: The Bar Sinister by Linda Berdoll

I am a Jane Austen addict. Pride and Prejudice is my favorite book ever. And I cheerfully buy any and all sequels to it, knowing without a doubt that there's no way on the planet that they will live up to the original. But I can't help myself. I may not read them in a timely manner, as proved by this particular book which I bought years ago, never read, and only rediscovered languishing on my shelves when it was re-released a couple of years ago under a different title (which I also promptly bought and had to return) but I buy them nevertheless. After reading this, I am a little sorry about my blanket Austen sequel reading policy.

An unattributed blurb on the back tells readers to "Hang on to your bonnets, this isn't Jane Austen. Reader discretion advised." Truer words were never spoken (and I'm a veteran romance reader so graphic desciptions don't bother me but this book is completely over the top. Opening with Darcy and Elisabeth [sic] jolting down the road towards Pemberley following their wedding night, we find the new Mrs. Darcy ignoring the pillow Mr. Darcy has so kindly offered her to give her lower bits respite from their aching. And this is just the beginning. We are treated to scene after scene of our newlyweds thinking lewd thoughts about each other or engaged in vigorous romping throughout the entire estate. Somehow the plot seems tangential to all the steamy (adn quite frankly fairly laughable) sex. We are told of Darcy's discreet exploits when he was younger and see further into his character as he snubs a neighbor who legitimized his bastard son as his heir. We meet Elisabeth's sisters again and get to encounter the still slimy Wickham as he makes a pass at Elisabeth. In addition we are treated to bad guys (why didn't Austen write about a kidnapping?) and another illegitimate child about whom speculation is rife. Elisabeth has trouble getting pregnant despite the constant sex. And Darcy continues to learn that his pride is misplaced as he discovers things about his own family that disappoint him.

With as much going on in this novel as there is, the chaos and the sex aren't the things that bothered me the most. Instead it was the stilted and unintentionally hilarious writing. I know that Berdoll was trying to mimic Austen's writing but it would probably have been better to just claim her own voice instead of producing this awkwardness. In addition to this, the book was incredibly poorly edited, with sentences trailing off into nothingness or making absolutely zero sense, even after several re-readings. The characters were as static as possible, perhaps in a nod to trying to stay true to Austen's original depiction, but since so much else of the story was as Austen would never have imagined it, why bother to try and keep them slotted into their familiar molds when circumstances should have dictated growth? And even at that, some of the characters are more true to the BBC production than to the original book. I really can be forgiving of a well-done sequel, after all; who hasn't wanted to know what happened after the happily ever after wedding in P&P but this is not that sequel. Really, it's fairly egregious.


  1. Thanks for the honest review. I too find Austen sequels to be a guilty pleasure, but I think I'll pass on this one.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  2. I'm actually currently reading this book. I definitely agree with you on the aspect of Berdoll's writing. It continually makes me laugh. However, I'm still wondering if this is going to be a happily ever after story, with everyone happy, or if it'll turn out a bit more realistically. Thanks for the review!


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