The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company, 31 March 2020
My Rating: 4.5/5 stars
For fans of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Janice Hadlow has imagined the story from the perspective of “the other Bennet sister,” Mary, who was always perceived as less physically attractive than her sisters and thus shunted into the background.
Now, Mary gets the spotlight and, finally, a fully fleshed-out character. Key scenes from Austen’s novel are told from Mary’s perspective and then her story continues in describing her life after her sisters’ marriages.
Mary struggles with finding her place in the world, especially in a sense of home. She tries living with Jane and Charles Bingley, then with Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy, and then an extended visit to Charlotte Lucas and William Collins, but in each place she lacks purpose and belonging, and she cannot rid her mind of the stinging retorts of Caroline Bingley. It is not until she goes with her aunt and uncle Gardiner in town that she begins to discover who she really is and what she really wants for her life.
As an unashamed Janeite, I was thrilled to read more imaginings in the world of Pride and Prejudice, and The Other Bennet Sister did not disappoint. I loved being able to dive back into 95 (yes, 95!) more chapters of life following the Bennets. Hadlow’s portrayals of the scenes from Austen’s original novel read faithfully, as were her representations of the characters. In particular, she captured Charlotte Lucas Collins’s characterization and choices strikingly well.
Without giving away Mary’s ending, I will say that even the predictability of the conclusion was satisfying. The echoes for Mary’s experiences from what Elizabeth suffered during the latter part of Austen’s original were tastefully included.
Overall, watching Mary’s progression from a little girl in her sister’s shadows to a confident woman capable of securing her own happiness was even more delightful than the pleasure of seeing beloved Pride and Prejudice characters in new scenes. For that reason, I could recommend this book to readers looking for a taste of Austen’s characters and themes even if they haven’t read Pride and Prejudice (although knowing that story first would definitely make this read a much richer experience). And for other Janeites, this is a first-rate addition to your Austen bookshelf!
Thanks to the Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC in
exchange for this honest and unbiased review.