As I’ve mentioned previously in various forums, I arrived late at the JAFF party and am still playing catch-up. When I enjoy an author’s newest release, I seek out their previous works. As I did in this case: after reading and enjoying Letter from Ramsgate, I searched for previous books by Suzan Lauder. And found Alias Thomas Bennet. And I’m very glad I did.
The premise is, as far as I know, unique amongst JAFFs: it’s almost like stepping through the looking glass. The Bennet family is no longer dysfunctional, but is headed by a very engaged father who cares for his wife and daughters as well as being a successful estate manager. Mrs Bennet, recipient of the love and respect of her husband, is still concerned about getting her daughters married, but not dementedly so, and she provides loving care as well as an excellent role model for her daughters to become ladies, wives, and mothers. The eldest two Bennet sisters are essentially unchanged (well, except for reaping the benefits of a surprise familial relationship), while the other three sisters retain their original personalities altho’ tempered into more positive and productive actions and activities. Not canon by any means, but thoroughly enjoyable.
Mr Bennet and Mr Darcy form a close friendship, and slowly tho’ ultimately Darcy and Lizzy grow into their own loving relationship. Lauder’s version of Lizzy here retains all the traits with which Austen endowed her, amplified by a greater strength and confidence. The author has created her character to reflect the modern view of an accomplished lady.
There are numerous flashbacks in the telling of the story, and to own the truth I did have a little trouble keeping the story line straight at first. Then two things happened: First, I was reading a used paperback copy of the book, and apparently whoever read the book before me was having similar difficulties and had actually drawn an interconnected timeline of events which I discovered tucked away in the pages! And then the author herself brings the story together in a series of well-crafted scenes that left me with a feeling of understanding calm; what one would call a lightbulb moment. These both occurred not too far into the story, so for most of the time I had a very clear grasp of what was going on.
As with Letter from Ramsgate, Lizzy and Darcy display rather more physical passion than their original counterparts ever did – or at least that we *saw* them do, altho’ I suspect most of us had our suspicions about them! This story gives them more leeway, and definitely has some spice to it.
The author has asked me to be sure to repeat the warning she has posted on the book’s back cover: “This book contains one brief scene of non‑explicit sexual violence that may be concerning to sensitive readers. The sexual violence does not involve Elizabeth Bennet.” Altho’ I viewed the scene dispassionately, I did find the events a bit shocking. It is, however, integral to the plot. There are several very vague references to these events at various points in the story, so if you want to skip the scene, you won’t be left out in the cold; you’ll still get the gist of the story. (And you’re welcome to contact me and I’ll tell you the pages you might want to avoid, and the one(s) that clarify the story, in the event that you do want to avoid this trigger.)
A definite five-star rating for Alias Thomas Bennet!
Suzan Lauder kindly agreed to provide a guest post to accompany this review. When she asked me to suggest a topic, I in turn asked her what her inspiration was for this story. Here is her response:
I’m a regular contributor on the Jane Austen website A Happy Assembly. In some discussions and in AHA chat, it became evident that some readers loved Mr. Bennet for his acerbic wit and humorous evaluation of other peoples’ characters while others disliked him for his obvious lackadaisical attitude towards parenting and financial responsibilities. It showed that Mr. Bennet’s personality was a fairly important element in the direction of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Given that circumstance, I began to think to myself what the novel would be like if his flaws were erased or minimized. I began to think of the plot of P&P and what essential scenes would change.
Mr. Bennet would go meet Mr. Bingley without having to be browbeaten into it. He would attend the Meryton Assembly, let Jane have the carriage to go to lunch with the Bingley sisters, and try to modulate the behaviour of his wife and younger daughters. But I needed a mechanism to facilitate this changed personality, and that’s how the mystery part of the story fit in.
Side issues that were strong possibilities with a changed Mr. Bennet emerged: it would be fun if he were close friends with Darcy so Elizabeth and Darcy knew each other better prior to Hunsford. Mr. Bennet would be in love with his wife and would calm her when she became agitated. To show where Mrs. Bennet’s nervous personality emerged from her youth, a carriage wreck and a startling assault open the novel.
The timelines for everything that ran parallel in the story were so critical, I even mapped out Jane’s and Elizabeth’s birthdays! That’s how complicated “what if Mr. Bennet were exactly opposite of his personality in canon” becomes!
Alias Thomas Bennet is available in paperback and ebook versions at the usual outlets. And, as I have previously mentioned, as a used book.
Your comments, as always, are welcome.
And … if you haven’t already got your copy of Desperate Hearts, you can order a kindle copy here.
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