20 February 2012

Sellers : Death Comes To Pemberley

Death Comes To Pemberley (2011)
Author: P. D. James
Publisher: Knopf
304 pages

The fact of this book is strange to me. That someone would write sequels or further adventures of books about Jane Austen characters is difficult for me to get my head around.

Austen wrote fairy tales, and like Shakespeare, her stories somewhat hinge on the idea of the characters having a life beyond the tale, one that we do not see. To show us that 'happily ever after' defeats the purpose and makes me cringe to even think about it.

So why is this book by P. D. James a best seller? Why is James, an award-winning mystery writer, publishing this thing? I mean, she's 80, lists The Third Man as her favorite film and is a Baroness. She should be better then this right? According to reviews the mystery part of the novel is taught and well done, the Austen rehash is not so great. So why do this? Because people WANT to know what happens next to Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. People NEED to know. Even if knowing ruins everything that they love about the story. Or, people are told they want and need to know.

This is why this book is not only a shame, but happens to not be alone in that shame. There is a whole pantheon of these books. It is nearly a genre at this point. Let's take a look at a few :

Mr. Darcy Takes A Wife by Linda Berdoll
Mr. Darcy's Diary by Amanda Grange
Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One by Sharon Lathan
Mr. Darcy's Obsession by Abigail Reynolds

You can see a theme here. Every one focuses on Mr. Darcy. Each seems to center around him being an object of desire and obsession. And while I can totally get behind obsessing over this :
Doesn't it all seem a bit 'women can only be happy married and having babies'? And isn't that a bit opposite of the strong women Austen is famous for writing? Isn't that the job of terrible teen lit? Granted, in Austen, they all do get married and it is implicit all have those babies. Despite this, they are not swooning light-headed children who must be protected and kept.

Each of these books takes Austen and turns her into a terrible romance novel cliche. Most are re-imaginings or what-ifs. It all strikes me as lazy. Trading the Austen name for a cheap gimmick. And cash, let's not forget the cash. Speaking of cash :

Pride and Predjudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith and its two sequels Dawn of the Dreadfuls and Dreadfully Ever After neither by Mr. Grahame-Smith. The first time I saw this I was bored by it. Why bother with the book at all? The cover is clearly the joke, the joke is clearly the story invented by the viewer when seeing the title.

I guess my point is that I literally don't get this. Reboots like Star Trek, Charlie's Angels, Hawaii 5-O, Transformers, The Smurfs, The Muppets, The Incredible Hulk, Superman, Spiderman. I've even liked a few of them. At least these are all series which have been re-imagined several times.

My issue isn't about whether they are good or not, it's about the dullness of it all. The attempt to take the familiar and bring it back to life is tantalizing. Keep the good times rolling, find safety in the familiar, etc. I get it, but it's also a clear grab at money that rings shallow. And is it actually reassuring or comforting?

These things are not museums. I'm not advocating pressing pause on culture. The exact opposite actually. The constant re-imagining and remaking only serves to spin the tires. We never have to move beyond Jane Austen because we can just read infinite variations on the theme of Austen written by random hack writers.

Austen is a great theme to deconstruct, she left us 6 books. She is beloved. So we deconstruct the books for our soap operatic pleasure and profit. We re-love the pale imitations in hopes of finding that Colin Firthiness in them. I hate sounding like an old man in an ivory tower but go read Austen herself. She left enough there for us to enjoy I promise. Leave the hack 'girls need boys' tales to teen lit and the bargain bin.