FICTION

Mary B: An Untold Story of Pride and Prejudice

336p. Random. Jul. 2018. Tr $27. ISBN 9780399592218.
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Chen's daring debut is a decidedly untraditional Pride and Prejudice retelling with a feminist bent. Taking place before, during, and after Jane Austen's most well-known work, this tale is told from the perspective of the frumpy and much-maligned middle Bennet sister. Lacking her sisters' reported beauty and charm, Mary would rather spend her days reading and philosophizing instead of searching for the perfect match. She's proud of her intelligence, and even when her unrequited love for Mr. Collins isn't reciprocated, she takes solace in her independence. Though the work is full of anachronisms and the slow beginning may deter some readers, the characterizations are fascinating and complex. The sentence structure may not be completely accurate for the time, but the cadence will feel similar. The author illuminates the very limited options for most women of the time and offers a very non-Austen-like look at what often befell most young women, even if they did marry. The protagonist isn't likable; she makes many mistakes in love and life, but she's entirely human, which will satisfy many teens.
VERDICT Not for purists or even fans of John Kessel's recent fanciful mash-up Pride and Prometheus. But those seeking a bold interpretation of a much-loved classic will find lots to savor and debate.

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