“A modern Pride & Prejudice that will rock your world … Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘N’ Roll” – Book cover
I picked up this 2011 modern retelling of our Pride and Prejudice from Glebe’s Sappho Books secondhand for $12 the other week – I spotted it straight away on the shelf (I think my brain is tuned into anything with the words ‘Darcy’, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ or ‘Bennet’ on it). I have struggled about where to begin with this review as I really enjoyed some aspects of it, and yet completely disliked other parts. Heather Lynn Rigaud has certainly succeeded in writing a book that will divide opinion, and my feelings are definitely mixed. By the end of it, you’ll feel as though you’ve gotten to know all the characters well, but you’ll also feel like you’ve run a marathon. Let me explain.
Let me introduce you, firstly, to ‘Slurry’ (a band consisting of Darcy, Charles Bingley and Richard Fitzwilliam – having previously also included Wickham whom Charles has replaced). They’re “rock gods” hounded after by women of all ages dying to go to their concerts and buy their CDs. However, they need a back-up group, having made a bad name for themselves as being difficult to tour with. Bring in ‘Long Borne Suffering’/LBS (I thought that was a cute name) featuring Lizzy, Jane and Charlotte Lucas. They’re green to the industry, have a lot to prove but are talented and beautiful. You can see where this is going to lead fairly early on, so the book is largely filled with touring ins-and-outs, making music videos, the stresses of the music industry, concerts and, obviously, relationship crises.
One thing Ms Rigaud does very well is bringing in our “other” characters seamlessly. Caroline Bingley (‘Caro’) is Slurry’s manager and while her bitchy side has been significantly tuned down (she’s actually quite lovely), she fits well into the role. Mr Collins has become LBS’ tour manager, and is everything you can expect from him. We see Lady Catherine running De Bourgh records, with Anne in tow – who is another adapted character that now has some more back-bone to her than we’ve seen before. She also manages to really push the ‘prejudice’ idea – before LBS has met Slurry, they already have many thoughts about their ‘bad boy’ status and the rumours surrounding them – not helped by Darcy putting his foot in his mouth early on in the piece.
So far, so good. Seeing how the characters are modernized is a rare pleasure and well done in this book, giving them a gritty raunchy edge. When I got to the end, where there is an ‘About The Author’ page, it says “Heather Lynn Rigaud is fascinated by the comparisons between life in earlier times and modern times. Thus, she spends much of her time thinking about how Regency-era characters would exist now”. This is completely true of what this book does best, and I will not argue that the characters, on the whole, fit their modern-day counterparts/careers well. Similarly, the Regency village feel really does complement this ‘in the media spotlight’ transition – town gossip is replaced by crappy newspaper reports and TV spots, mother’s looking to find eligible bachelors for their daughters are replaced by groupies, balls are replaced by concerts and so on.
Unfortunately, it falls down severely in some other areas. I’m about to sound like a stuck-up prude, but here goes. There’s way too much sex in this book! I don’t mind a little bit of erotica when it pulls in my favourite characters, but it felt as though every single sexual escapade of each character (and when they’re “on tour” with groupies and each other constantly you can imagine what this might be like) is described in the most excruciating detail. Some things are best left to the imagination. In saying that, a couple of the scenes are excellent – not wanting to ruin any storylines here but Lizzy and Darcy together? When are we going to complain at that? Next time, however, if I have to read the same lines over-and-over, such as “he/she cupped his/her ass with their hands” or “his eyes darkened with desire/anger/etc” just one more time I will scream. Everyone is having the orgasm of their life, or the best this, that or the other, so it becomes a little bit annoying not to mention improbable. This is certainly not PG material and I found myself blushing on the train, embarrassed that someone might read over my shoulder what was on the pages.
The second issue I had with this book is the idea of “communicating through music”. Anyone who likes music gets this – I do, and I’m not a musician, just a big fan of listening to things. However, it was overdone, causing the characters to appear ridiculously sensitive and dramatic. For instance, Jane thinks that Charles wants to break up with her over a song. That’s right A SONG. And even after she is told that it wasn’t aimed at her (to fill in the blanks, they’re a band and while he was singing there are two other members that could also have chosen it and he was unaware they were there, not that this means anything even then), she still loses complete trust in him. I was seriously rolling my eyes at how unrealistic this was. There was a lot of this, and a lot of overly dramatic characters in general. The ‘L’ bomb gets dropped within weeks of dating quite often, and they’re unhealthily obsessed with one another – every page someone is yearning or longing, while someone else is happy/sad/angry… it’s exhausting! Some of this caused contradictions – Charlotte is “not romantic” and yet spends a lot of her time head-over-heels interested in Richard Fitzwilliam.
A nice addition is in the ‘author’s note’ where it discusses some of the song inspirations. While I certainly didn’t imagine Jane as a Michelle Branch character, or Lizzy as Sheryl Crow (or Slurry as Puddle of Mudd), it was great to almost be given a “playlist to listen along to as you read”.
My third, more minor, criticism was some of the storyline alterations. Certainly (and mega spoiler alert here) it’s great to see Charlotte not end up with Mr Collins. But the way he is involved in her life is so minor, it bugs me. A huge amount of artistic license was also taken with Wickham (but his outcome is, in retrospect, similar to what he would have been facing with Lydia anyway) and I thought that keeping the age of Georgiana the same, which caused him to be branded a Pedophile, was a little strong due to cultural changes between the Regency era and the 21st Century.
I did seriously respect how she interwove some of the different facets into the story, and I get the feeling she knows Pride and Prejudice very well, so this isn’t a huge factor. Jane having her head hit by a bottle thrown from the audience was a creative way to match up her being sick at Netherfield. I spent a lot of the book thinking ‘but what about Pemberley?!’ so when it finally showed up I was over the moon. Some of the storyline became confusing, especially as we are following all three couples quite closely. While Ms Rigaud does well to jump in and out of the six different viewpoints so we’re always clear on what they’re thinking, it does make it hard to really hone in on whereabouts we are in the storyline. She does mention at the end of the book that it was hastily put together, which I think you can tell – especially with the dialogue. It’s not exactly the most natural of speech, and I can’t imagine many people saying some of the things that these characters do (a lot of them say things like “I’ve been with many men before, but never like that”.)
My last issue was how perfect some of the characters end up being. Darcy, for instance, tells Lizzy that he actually likes her family. Maybe he’s lying or something, but I can’t imagine our Mr Darcy ever agreeing with this. Our Jane Austen-written Mr Darcy is flawed, and this Darcy turns out to be perfect, completely accepting of her lower class status and possessive, but in a ‘cute’ way. Similarly, while Richard Fitzwilliam used to be an alcoholic, and is a womanizer etc, it’s never really an issue and all his problems are rectified in the end. Even though he says he “might slip” to Charlotte, the viewpoint from him we are given is that he can never imagine being with another. This seems unusual for someone so addicted to sleeping around.
After all of that, I think it’s a very interesting read if you’re a hardcore Pride and Prejudice fan. There’s something fun about thinking of the characters as being in rock bands hounded by the media, and there’s also something cool about seeing Lizzy and Darcy battle it out over sushi – trust me, it’s a good scene.
The best summation of this book is actually from Charlotte in the epilogue. She says “I read the news reports and even I can’t believe it. I mean, the three members of a girl group marrying the three members of a rock band. That just sounds so hokey.” But, in honesty, something about it did keep me reading until the last of the 420-odd pages. ISBN: 978-1-4022-5781-0