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Searching for Pemberley by Mary Lydon Simonsen

Mary Lydon Simonsen’s Searching for Pemberley starts was a premise many interviewers often ask authors about their fiction:  “Are any of your characters based upon real people?”  Did Jane Austen use real people to write the great love story of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy?  Simonsen’s book may not offer the truth behind Austen’s characters, but it does spin a unique mystery tale through which one possible reality of Mr. Darcy and Ms. Bennet are discovered.

“‘Mr. Crowell, you don’t know me.  I’m Maggie Joyce, but I was wondering if . . .’  But that was as far as I got.

‘You’re here about the Darcy’s right?  Don Caton rang me to let me know you might be coming ’round.  Come through.  Any friend of Jane Austen’s is a friend of mine.'”  (Page 12 of the ARC)

Maggie Joyce is the main protagonist and an American from a coal mining town in Pennsylvania.  She quickly leaves her hometown of Minooka for Washington, D.C., to help with the government with its World War II-related administrative work.  Eventually she is stationed in Germany and later in England following the end of the war.  She meets a fantastic family, the Crowells, who help her unravel the real family behind Jane Austen’s characters.

“Beth gestured for me to follow her into the parlor.  She had a way of carrying herself that was almost regal, especially when compared to her husband, who reminded me of a former football player who had taken a hit or two.”  (Page 25 of ARC)

Told from Maggie’s point of view, the novel grabs readers with its immediacy as Maggie moves through war-torn Europe and reads through a variety of diary entries and letters to uncover the origins of Pride & Prejudice.  Readers who have read Austen’s novel once or more than a dozen times will recognize echoes of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy in the Crowells and may even find parts of the mystery obvious.  However, this story is more than a look at where Austen may have found inspiration, it is about a nation (England) and its people in the midst of rebuilding after the devastation of the German blitzkrieg and World War II.  There also a healthy dose of romance between Maggie and two beaus that add to the tension.

“‘Nightmares from the war that I hadn’t had in ten, fifteen years came back.  Jesus, they all came back,’ he said, massaging his temples as if the act would block out any unwanted images.  ‘Picking up bodies and having them fall apart in my hands.  Stepping on limbs.  Being scared shitless during barrages.'”  (Page 254 of ARC)

Simonsen does an excellent job examining the shell shock felt by airmen and other military personnel and how their war experiences could impact their relationships with family, friends, and lovers.  While there are some occasions in this nearly 500-page book that are bogged down by too much detail, Simonsen’s characters are well developed and the twists and turns as Maggie unravels the mystery of the Bennets and the Darcys are fun.  The aftermath of World War II is well done and rich in emotional and physical detail, showing Simonsen’s deft research and keen eye.  Searching for Pemberley is an excellent addition to the every growing market of Jane Austen spin-offs.

This is the 8th book I’ve read that qualifies for the 2009 WWII Reading Challenge.  Though I officially met my goal of reading 5 WWII-related books some time ago, I’ve continued to find them on my shelves and review them here.  I’m sure there will be more, stay tuned.

Searching for Pemberley is the 6th item and fulfills my obligations under the Everything Austen Challenge 2009.   I hope that everyone has been reading along for this challenge.  It has been fun to see the mix of books and movies that everyone has reviewed.  I may even read another book before this challenge ends, since my main goal in joining was to read Persuasion, one of the only Austen novels I haven’t read.

Have you missed the giveaway for Searching for Pemberley?  Don’t worry there’s still time to enter.  Go here, and comment on Mary Lydon Simonsen’s interview for an additional entry.  Deadline is Dec. 14, 2009 at 11:59PM EST.


THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED!!

Additionally, I would like to thank Mary Lydon Simonsen and Sourcebooks for sending me a free copy of Searching for Pemberley for review.  Clicking on title links will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page, no purchase necessary.