Thursday 4 September 2014

Death Comes to Pemberley by P D James

I thought I'd share one of my older reviews with you. This is what I thought of the book of Death Comes to Pemberley, by P. D. James. 

P. D. James is such a successful writer, and I'd read one of her books before, and enjoyed it, so I approached this book with high hopes. This is a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, happening 6 years later.

After a rehash of the events of Pride and Prejudice we move on to our story. At Pemberley, the annual Lady Anne's Ball is being prepared for, when there is a commotion at the door; Lydia Wickham has arrived, uninvited and in hysterics, saying that her husband has been shot by Denny in the woods. A search party sets out in the darkness and finds a drunken Wickham crying over the body of Denny, and saying that he had killed his only friend. This could either mean that he feels responsible directly or indirectly, but it's taken as a confession, and the main body of the story deals with the investigation and court case. From this point of view, the story is quite interesting, as I didn't have much idea of the legal system then, and I am presuming that all these details were researched. It was also interesting to find out what really happened that night, as there is more to the story than at first is apparent.

However, I hadn't really come to this story from the point of view of somebody who loves P. D. James' stories, but as somebody who loves Miss Austen's, and from this point of view, the book is far less successful. The main issue I had is that the characters were so flat. For me, one of Austen's strengths are her characters, they are so alive that they almost leap off the page. This isn't the case here; Elizabeth is unrecognisable as the sparkling, vivacious woman we met in P&P, she is very bland. Darcy is much more fully realised, as the story deals with him much more. Much of the dialogue throughout the book is very flat also, there are whole pages of people recounting things, which makes sense in an investigation, but it's written in such a way that it's not very engaging to read!

We see more of all the Bennets, including Lydia, who is extremely rude and petulant towards Lizzy at all times - I don't believe that would be the case, Lydia wouldn't be stupid enough to not try and curry favour with her sister, and I also think Wickham would have encouraged her to be on as good terms as possible with both her rich sisters. We also know from P&P that Lydia visited her sister, but this Lydia wouldn't have wanted to.

Another aspect of behaviour that I thought was unlikely was the discussion between Darcy and Elizabeth at the end of the book where they talked about Georgiana's attempted elopement with Wickham, and Elizabeth's attraction to him. It strikes an odd note that they should be discussing this so many years down the line for the first time.

Although there is a apology from P. D. James to Miss Austen at the beginning of the book apologising for using her characters these are clearly empty words, because she criticises the events of Pride and Prejudice. This really annoyed me; as if James had a problem with P&P she should have chosen another book to base her story on. Firstly, she doesn't like how quickly Lizzy (or Lizzie, as James refers to her) and Darcy fell in love:
"If this were fiction, could even the most brilliant novelist continue to make credible so short a period in which pride had been subdued and prejudice overcome?"
Also, apparently James believed that Lizzy married for money?!!!
"Would she (Elizabeth) herself have married Darcy had he been a penniless curate or a struggling attorney?"
The cheek! Elizabeth was resolved to marry for love, but of course there was a practical element to marriage in that time. If there isn't enough money to support a family then she could not marry and Elizabeth knew that. However, she knew that Darcy was rich when she first refused him. I don't feel this sequel was done by somebody who was a fan of the book, which personally I feel is vitally important for a successful sequel.

There are also some things which don't quite marry up with the events of Pride and Prejudice, for example, Mr Darcy helps out Wickham with money while he's in prison and Mr Bennet makes some reference to Elizabeth of this not being the first time Darcy has helped out their family, not that he has full knowledge, but of course he had knowledge! When telling her father of Darcy's proposal, Lizzy told him of Darcy's generous nature and what he did for Lydia, and he replied that he would offer to pay Darcy back. However, she doesn't tell him in the '95 adaptation, and to be honest, I wondered if James had assumed it from that.

Also, there are multiple references to Wickham not being allowed to stay at the Bingleys' home. This is in direct contradiction of Pride and Prejudice where it is stated in reference to Lydia and Wickham that:
"... with the Bingleys they both of them frequently staid so long, that even Bingley's good-humour was overcome, and he proceeded so far as to talk of giving them a hint to be gone."
There are references to characters from other Austen books, Emma and Persuasion. The Emma references seemed fine, if unnecessary, but the Persuasion ones didn't quite make sense to me - Wickham was working for Sir Walter Elliot but they had parted company as Miss Elizabeth Elliot didn't like how attracted her father was to Mrs Wickham - what danger would she have been to Sir Walter? Lydia was married, so it's not as though Sir Walter would marry her. Considering that in Persuasion Miss Elliot misses the fact that her father is attracted to Mrs Clay and he could have married her, I don't see this as likely.

So, all in all, although this isn't a badly written book, I was disappointed with it, which is why it took me ages to read! I still plan to watch the adaptation, as I am hopeful that the scriptwriters will be able to improve the characters.

I watched the adaptation when it was on over Christmas 2013, and I'll give you my thoughts on that next time.


  1. As a fan of the works of P. D. James and Jane Austen I could never give this book more than one star and preferably none, so disappointing

    1. I was very disappointed with it too Vesper. This is going to sound harsh but it felt to me like an author cashing in. If James loves Pride & Prejudice it certainly isn't conveyed, I really didn't like the implied criticisms of the original book. I originally gave it two stars but after watching the adaptation I felt I hadn't given P D James enough credit for her portrayal of Darcy. That was the only character I think she captured well. I haven't read many of her other books but from what I can recall they are more plot driven than character driven and I think this was part of the reason it didn't really work for me.

  2. Hi, wonderful review!!
    I agree with you. I didn't like the book, I didn't recognize P&P characters, it seemed to me that they only had the same names, and I was bored by repetition of facts about the night in which Danny died. I took a lot of time to finish it, too.
    Bye! :)

    1. Thank you Carmen! I agree with you on all points, the characters didn't quite come alive did they, and with all the evidence there was too much repetition. It took me months to finish, I just put it down and never wanted to pick it up again until a certain point on the story when it got a bit of momentum

  3. Loved reading your review, Ceri! My thoughts exactly, it didn't seem to be written by a P&P fan! Elizabeth was not herself, lots of ideas were in contradiction to P&P, and how could she make a villain of dear Col Fitzwilliam?!?!

    Great plot no doubt, and the mystery and intrigue is what she does best, but I wish I could find the Darcys that we know and love in that story, and couldn't! Loved most of the secondary characters though - in the adaptation I mean, I haven't read the book, and I wish I did, your review made me think I might have liked Darcy more.

    Georgiana was lovely, her beau was lovely too, I liked Mr Bennet, Lady Catherine, the neighbouring sleuth etc, the twist with Mrs Younge was very clever and, of them all, I ended up liking Lydia and Wickham the most - at least their character and relationship seem to ring wonderfully true.

    1. I was surprised with the Colonel Fitzwilliam character. If you didn't like him in the adaptation you'd hate him in the book. Having said that, I can see part of the logic for making him quite hard underneath his genial manner, with him being a soldier etc, he must have had some hidden steel to him but for me it doesn't follow that he needed to be so hard, especially in relation to Georgiana, as she had been his ward I would have expected better.

      I thought Lydia and Wickham's relationship in the adaptation was unexpectedly really touching and poignant but for me E&D's was disappointing, that was something I preferred in the book.

  4. Great review, Ceri. I was not a fan of this book either. I had never read anything by PD James before and I only read this because of the P&P aspect. I am excited to watch the adaptation though. Hopefully I will enjoy it more!!:)

    1. On balance, I think the adaptation is better, and that is something I'd almost never say. There were some things I preferred in the book though, I'll be interested to hear what you think of it once you've watched it.

  5. Sorry to comment on this post nearly a decade later! I was roaming around your blog today because I was following some logical (?) routes down the JAFF rabbit hole from the Meryton Press website. And, I landed on this review. I was very curious what you had to say about it because I only watched the adaptation. Although I own the book I haven't been able to face reading it. I hated it. I don't know if the situations in the movie are directly from the book so I don't know if I can blame the author or book. It seems she really disliked Austen and P&P in particular.

    The two things that stood out for me were these: The way Darcy (hated the actor they chose for him, yuck!,) treated Lizzy and Georgiana. It seemed he was perpetually angry with Lizzy, and she just let it roll off her with none of the characteristic Lizzy responses we would expect...even after that many years of marriage and a natural maturing and softening of 'obstinance.' And in the movie Darcy is trying to force Georgiana to marry Col. Fitzwilliam which makes not sense to me at all. How he hated being expected to marry his cousin! It was just wrong. When I saw your star rating I was hoping that someone out there (and a reviewer, JAFF lover I respected) had the same opinion I did about Death Comes To Pemberley.

    I used to be a completely devoted P.D.James fan myself. But her Richard Jury series started going downhill, at least for me, and I only read two or three of her other books that were stand alones. I really had high hopes for DCtP. Ah, well.
    Michelle H

    1. I was really disappointed with this book, and then I watched the adaptation and was disappointed with that too, but for different reasons! It made me appreciate P D James's portrayal of Darcy in the book, though, because I thought she did a relatively good job of him and the adaptation made his character weak, hypocritical and altogether lesser which I hated. In the book, despite his dislike and mistrust of Wickham, he is determined to ensure the truth is found, and that justice is done, not like the adaptation Darcy who does cursory magistrate work and leaves the rest of the job up to super sleuth Lizzy.

      I agree with you regarding the adaptation treatment of Georgiana too, how could her brother force her into a suitable marriage when he chose his marriage partner for love? The hypocrisy!

      I thought it was such a shame that this was the book that was adapted, because there are so many better books out there.


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