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Monday, September 5, 2016

The Trouble to Check Her by Maria Grace | Review

Don't forget, I've got a giveaway going for a copy of this book! You can enter here (after you've finished the review, of course. ;P )


The Trouble to Check Her by Maria Grace
(Queen of Rosings Park, #2)
Get It | Add It
288 pages
Published March 30th 2016 by White Soup Press
Lydia Bennet faces the music…

Running off with Mr. Wickham was a great joke—until everything turned arsey-varsey. That spoilsport Mr. Darcy caught them and packed Lydia off to a hideous boarding school for girls who had lost their virtue.
It would improve her character, he said.

Ridiculous, she said.

Mrs. Drummond, the school’s headmistress, has shocking expectations for the girls. They must share rooms, do chores, attend lessons, and engage in charitable work, no matter how well born they might be. She even forces them to wear mobcaps! Refusal could lead to finding themselves at the receiving end of Mrs. Drummond's cane—if they were lucky. The unlucky ones could be dismissed and found a position … as a menial servant.

Everything and everyone at the school is uniformly horrid. Lydia hates them all, except possibly the music master, Mr. Amberson, who seems to have the oddest ideas about her. He might just understand her better than she understands herself.
Can she find a way to live up to his strange expectations, or will she spend the rest of her life as a scullery maid?

I had originally intended to have a vlog in defense of Lydia Bennet filmed to go along with today's review, but alas, I somehow managed not to account for Labor Day, and that just didn't happen. Next year, I suppose, but I do have to say, I've come to look at a lot of Austen characters differently as I've gotten older and pondered more, and I can't seem to muster up the annoyance and dislike of Lydia that I once held. (And even though I didn't end up talking about her in it, Lydia was actually one of the main inspirations behind this book chat about Austen's bitches, in which I found myself defending characters I never thought I would, including the likes of Caroline Bingley and Mrs Norris! I know, I surprised myself. And we're all just gonna ignore that unfortunate lipstick choice, 'k?)

But all of this is to say, since I am always on the look out for Austen rewrites that address characters beyond just Lizzie & Darcy, I've been finding myself especially curious to see what writers would do with Lydia's story, and whether she can be made sympathetic and still retain her Lydia-ness — so of course, I was very happy to learn that the second book in Maria Grace's Queen of Rosings Park series was tackling "the Lydia problem"! And for the most part, I think it does so quite well.

Now, before I get into all of the pros and cons and whys, I need to make clear that the Queen of Rosings Park series takes a very different approach to the canon of Pride & Prejudice, shaking pretty much everything up and creating a whole new (and rather unpleasant) upbringing for the Bennet sisters. This means that the Lydia we know from P&P is already on quite a different path than what we're used to. I mean, she's still Lydia, and she still does the traditional thoughtless-Lydia things. But her life and the events that have formed her are just not the same, and that really comes into play in this story, in how her transformation comes about. But though her life and experiences are so different, and her internalized feelings maybe more extreme as a result, I found them to be a pretty fascinating and potentially accurate reflection of who she is or could be.

The idea of Lydia as a creative, who loves to draw and paint and seems to have almost an inexplicably exceptional natural talent for it, at first seemed a little off to me. I couldn't picture Lydia applying herself to something, and I wasn't sure if she really had that spark of creativity and intelligence needed to be the talented artist that she appeared to be. But then — silly as it is — I recalled the scene with the bonnet, the very ugly bonnet, that she might as well buy as not; she had plans, you see, to pick it to pieces and rework it. On first reading, this seems like another bit of frivolity on her part -- shallow, heedless, bad with money, idle hands and devils work and all that. But actually it speaks to a a self-assuredness that she can remake it into something more, and a desire for creativity and occupation -- albeit not one she finds boring. Add in the fact that the Bennet girls never had masters to teach them such things, or seek out the seeds of such a talent, and it becomes a little less far-fetched that those seeds could be inside Lydia, just waiting to burst forth.

It actually became one of my favorite aspects of the story, seeing Lydia's burgeoning ability, almost an awakening, and watching how it brings her to life. (Having this an aspect of her brain and personality also makes sense in other ways: many creatives struggle with the mundane, some with learning things in a traditional manner; many are flamboyant, messy, and flout convention -- there are a lot of aspects of her personality that actually dovetail quite nicely with this choice on Grace's part.) Her growing passion for art, and the realization that she has a talent and isn't just a trifling, silly girl, actually works (in a rather sad way), with some of the negative aspects of her life — and I don't just mean the altered course that Maria Grace has laid out. Even the treatment of her family in the original text plays well with Trouble-Lydia's need for approval, and general amazement that she's good for/at something. It is actually very sad, and sadly realistic, and makes you question whether her unchecked penchant for fun at all costs is a distraction from how unhappy and undervalued she feels — and how in turn, this would make her exceedingly easy prey for Wickham...

I found these things very fascinating, and they added such a nice layer to the story, because not only do they serve to give Lydia more depth, but they also cause me to reflect back on the original text in new ways, which is part of why I love Austenesque stories so much. (This, by the way, is something I find Maria Grace particularly talented at.) I had only two real detractions, and these are they:

1) There came a point where the male lead made my skin crawl a little bit, and I was almost really put off by him, and their relationship. BUT I came to realize that this is just as much a story of redemption for him as it is for her, and if I can forgive her some things, I can forgive him, too, so long as he's demonstrated a willingness to be better (and he has. He certainly has).

and 2) It definitely needs a little more Lydia feel. I make allowances for the fact that this is, as mentioned, a totally new interpretation of her (and all of the characters), and so, because her life has been so different, she's obviously not going to behave quite as Austen's Lydia would. Bus she starts out a bit too demure and tractable, and she learns and grows too easily. I can't help but feel Lydia would dig in her heels more, and she's certainly not an easy character to make feel shame (as evidenced by her wedding and reaction in the original text -- she was essentially ruined, and still found it all a lark). Even in her manner of speech, she feels a bit too mature and buttoned up, right from the start, for me. I need a few more "Oh, la!"s and general noisy exclamations. This Lydia is no wallflower, certainly, but she's lacking that characteristic boisterousness that makes Lydia Lydia. And frankly, I want to see a Lydia that can be "reformed" and have a Happy Ever After while not being totally dampened or losing her spark.

But again, Grace has a juggling act of being both true to Austen and to the quite altered retelling that she's set out to tell, and I do make allowances for that. All told, this is another strong book in a fascinating series, and though it may be too far removed from the original to make it to everyone's liking, I think it is an excellent example of what a classic-inspired retelling or continuation can be. Definitely recommended for fans of the series, JAFF, and those curious about Lydia (as well as those who just plain like historical romance that falls on the more wholesome, rather than steamy, side). If you're reading it for the Austen: definitely read book 1 first; you'll really need that world-building. If reading it for the histrom, you could probably jump right in, without knowing more than the basics of P&P, and still find it completely enjoyable.

If you've read this, definitely let me know your thoughts in the comments!
And don't forget, Maria has offered up a copy to one of YOU, so make sure to enter to win!


Return to the Austen in August Main Page by clicking here for more Janeite goodies!

2 comments:

  1. It sounds like it really got you to thinking about why Lydia is the way she is beyond the obvious and that's interesting that the author gave the hero some character growth needs, too. I like it when both romance partners are more equally matched instead of one being perfection and the other not.

    Great insightful review!

    ReplyDelete
  2. A simply lovely read. In this alternate reality for Jane Austen's characters, Lydia grows into the young lady one feels she was always meant to be.

    ReplyDelete

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