From the desk of Sophia Rose:
One of the brilliant things about modern retellings is the amusement in discovering the similarities in the characters and scenes to the original while still getting a unique flavor to the story by seeing them in a new setting. Fiona Palmer’s, Matters of the Heart, a modern retelling of Pride & Prejudice set in rural Western Australia strikes a happy balance between complete correspondence to the original and wise alterations to suit the times and keeps it fresh for the readers. The draw of an Australian author and setting for Austen’s classic could not be missed.
The book opens with an introduction to the main character, feisty Lizzy Bennet, her family, and her small town, Coodardy. Lizzy pursues her deep-seated fulfillment in farming and bravely forges ahead using new methods in agriculture and animal husbandry to save the family farm following a few tough years and her dad’s indifference. Lizzy is not immune to other people’s doubts that a mere woman can be a farmer let alone save her family farm which causes her to stick out her chin and resent a certain rich, successful, and handsome farmer’s officious remark. So much for being excited about having the farm next door purchased and new people arriving in the neighborhood, she thinks. Charles might be nice enough and fun to converse with about farm methods, but his sister and best friend are as welcome as a bank foreclosure in Lizzy’s mind.
Matters of the Heart was very much in tune with Austen’s story. That said, it was freshened due to the Australian farm setting, Australian customs, and dialogue with new characters for the reader to engage with whether brand new to Austen or an old fan.
This version of Elizabeth Bennet, the jewel of the story for me, is a woman succeeding in a non-traditional career and is a bright non-conformist like the original.
The author didn’t feel the need to include every character or scene which can be tedious and not always fitting for a modern story. She sometimes combined Austen’s characters in a fun way like having fashion guru blogger, Caroline Bingley do the confrontation scene fans associate with Lady Catherine, who is absent in this story, warning off Lizzy Bennet when she suspected Will Darcy had a soft spot for her.
Mrs. Bennet was the surprise character for me in that, yes, she is still on about her daughters finding good marriages and her worry about losing the farm, but she was also a frugal, sensible in her tasks and family care, farmer’s wife who loved her children. She supports Lizzy’s work on the farm even if she browbeats her about getting a man to share the workload and spoils Lydia, her youngest daughter. I found this character a curious blend of comedy and drama.
My only niggles were that I felt there needed to be more of a relationship build in the romance element once they got past the conflict since, up until recently, Lizzy had her hate on when it came to Will whose reticence kept her guessing. I also had the desire for a little more to the denouement, so I had a better picture of what the future held for our delightful characters. The end came rather abruptly, and I was left with curiosity questions even with the main plot points tied up so I had a general idea.
All in all, Matters of the Heart was a heartwarming, sassy Australian rendering of a modern Pride & Prejudice contemporary that Austen fans or fans of sweet contemporary romance need not hesitate to pick up.
4 out of 5 Stars
Matters of the Heart, by Fiona Palmer
Hachette Book Group (2019)
Trade paperback, eBook, & audiobook (384) pages
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Cover image courtesy of Hachette Book Group © 2019; Text Sophia Rose © 2019, Austenprose.com