Guest review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising
If there was ever an “About the Author” section that seemed to speak to me, directly to me, it is this one:
Marsha Altman exists more as a philosophical concept than an atom-based structure existing within the rules of time and space as we know them. She is the author of four books set in Jane Austen’s Regency England as well as the editor of an anthology of Pride and Prejudice-related fiction. When not writing, she studies Talmud and paints Tibetan ritual art, preferably not at the same time. She lives in New York, New York, and does not own any cats.
Diverse. Engaging. Just plain cool.
And somehow, someway, Altman’s distinctive personality (at least the one she’s chosen to portray publicly) has been transposed onto a 432-page doorstop of a book that is just as diverse, engaging, and cool as she is. The Ballad of Gregoire Darcy is the fourth installment in Altman’s what-happens-after-pride-and-prejudice universe, and it will have you hooked within moments. Want to travel the world with Darcy and the gang? Want to say HI to his illegitimate brother Gregoire in Spain before he shows you what crazy apparatus he wears? How about India? What would Charles Bingley look like with a monkey on his shoulder?
All this, and more, can be yours. The story drips with spirit and intrigue while unique characters, characters who still somehow manage to stay in the realm of Jane Austen’s originals, carouse and laugh and pray their way around their various estates. Gregoire Darcy is forced to leave his lonely monastery on the windswept shores of Spain, abandoning his life in the church and returning to England to live out the rest of his life. But how shall he cope? What will he do now? With the support of Fitzwilliam Darcy and his every-expanding family, Gregoire finds himself free to explore the world and his own inner mysteries, and is quite surprised at what he discovers!
Elizabeth Darcy herself is in the background most of the time, along with all her sisters and a mountain of nieces, nephews, and children from her own loins (4 of them). Caroline Bingley and her husband, Dr. Maddox, along with all their offspring often frequent the pages, while Georgiana and her husband, Dr. Maddox’s brother and his wife and their cohort Mugin, and even Charlotte Collins and her own brood are all present as well (which will make you very thankful for the family tree Altman has so thoughtfully included). Gregoire himself, Darcy’s half-brother, is a likeable person, generous and reverent to the end, and although his story is mired in trouble and heartbreak while he attempts to conform to English society. Problems are many, and finding solutions makes each character bloom all the more.
Yes, it’s a rip roarin’ good time. Funny, well-written, and projecting the image of one seriously practiced researcher and writer. The structure is beautiful with frequent page breaks being the only exception…but you’ll get used to it. The book as a whole flows with a lovely sense of development and prose, which becomes all the more enjoyable when you stumble upon sassy scenes like these:
“What are rich people like?”
He laughed. She hadn’t meant it seriously—there was no way that she could have. That didn’t mean he was exempted from providing an answer, so he took a piece of potato floating in the soup and put it in his mouth, chewing on it to give himself time to mull over the question. “Do you wish to know a secret?”
She squealed, “Aye!”
“They are terribly, terribly bored.”
Neither of them could hold back their laughter at that. He was glad that he had swallowed his food properly, as he could not have held it in. “They have their servants do every menial task. The do not even dress themselves, and are left with nothing to do. So they read books and go own walks and then sit down for long dinners where they discuss reading books and going on walks. And then they write people about it, because writing takes time.”
Read this book, take a long walk, then come home for dinner and tell everyone about it. They’ll want to read it too!
5 out of 5 Stars
The Ballad of Gregoire Darcy: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice Continues, by Marsha Altman
Ulysses Press (2011)
Trade paperback (432) pages
© 2007 – 2011 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose