First published by HarperCollins in 2008 (this edition by HarperCollins in 2009)
Description (from Goodreads):
Twenty years after Pride and Prejudice closes, the Bennet sisters have another remarkable story to tell.
Mary Bennet, of the atrocious voice and staid bent of mind, has been weighed down with family obligations. Her sisters have made lives of their own: Jane is happily married, Elizabeth finds being a Darcy brings unwelcome social pre-eminence, Lydia's still entranced by soldiers, and Kitty's a star of London's fashionable salons. But Mary has had to wait for her moment to claim her liberty.
Once she is free, Mary resolves to publish a book about the plight of England's poor. Plunging from one pedicament to another, she embarks upon a mission of investigation that eventually leads her into mortal danger. But having tasted independence, Mary resolves to keep it - and she will let nobody, whether family, suitor or enemy, take it away.
Warm, witty, tragic and eminently satisfying, The Independence of Mary Bennet is a novel for every woman who has yearned to make her mark upon the world, from a master story teller.
The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet - as is obvious from the title - tells the story of the sister who is most reserved in the story of Pride and Prejudice. In this book, set 20 years after the events in P&P, we see a completely different story, where everything seems to be falling apart: Lydia has become a drunk and has been subjected to years of Wickham selling out her body for money; Lizzie is in a cold and distant marriage, as Fitz (that's Darcy) has reverted back to his cold and superior ways; Jane is tired out from having to endure one pregnancy after the other; Mary is stuck living with her mother in some corner of the country, where Darcy has hidden her away so as not to cause any embarrassment. On the other hand, Kitty seems to have made quite a good catch, by marrying a gentleman.
But then, Mrs Bennet dies, leaving Mary a free person. It is assumed that she will either stay with Jane or Lizzie (whose houses are a few miles apart), but Mary takes them all by surprise and decides to make her own way in the world, resolving to publish a book about the poor people of England. Somehow, though, she doesn't manage to get very far in her travels and lands into a bit of a predicament.
Though I really hate the cover of this book, it was the title that drew me to buy and read it. I really loved Pride and Prejudice and Mary was one of the most inconspicuous characters in it, so I was very interested to see what the author came up with to present as her story. At first, I absolutely hated the book. The only reason for that - and I know it's rather shallow - was the fact that Lizzie and Mr. Darcy (Fitz as he is known throughout the book) have not had a happy marriage, despite their lovely courtship in P&P. Talk about disappointing. But as the book progressed it became more interesting. It was obvious that the author made all the circumstances of the other Bennet sisters off-putting, so as for Mary to have an argument against marriage. Mary sets off on her grand journey, despite all warnings against it, and manages to end up having quite an adventure.
Mary's character is portrayed in a lovely way. It shows that she's not the same person she was 20 years ago; that she has grown to realise a bit more about the world. She is a wonderful, compassionate woman, who revels at being free (after nearly 20 years of being confined to care for her mother), and is smart and knowledgeable to boot.
I liked the fact that new characters entered the scene. It wasn't all about the characters we have already met and loved in Pride and Prejudice. My favourite would definitely have to be Charlie, Lizzie and Fitz's son.
Though I did enjoy this book, I can't say that it was one that I just have to keep on my shelves forever. Nearing the end, some of the things happening seemed to be dealt with in a very quick manner, to the point of me actually thinking that it was a rather quick change of heart.
Colleen McCullough is an Australian author. She intended to study medicine at university, but a severe reaction of her skin to surgical soap led her to abandon her dream of becoming a medical doctor. Instead, she switched to neuroscience and has worked in many hospitals in Australia and England, before getting a teaching job at the Yale Medical School. She currently lives in Sydney.
Her other books include:
You can find out more about Colleen McCullough and her books HERE.
Read for the: 100 Books In A Year Challenge 2011