Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors: A Novel, by Sonali Dev—A Review

Pride Prejudice and Other Flavors 2019 x 200Recently I pulled Pemberley, or Pride and Prejudice Continued, by Emma Tennant off my bookshelf. I was feeling nostalgic after looking at my “to be read” pile of new Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice retellings that have or will hit bookstores this year. It was one of the first P&P inspired novels that I read way back in 2002. Published in 1993, the author was forging virgin territory. At this point there were very few Austen-inspired books in print and readers did not know what to expect. It received a tepid reception from critics and the public. One recent Amazon reviewer called it “a real nightmare.” Ouch! You can read my detailed review of Pemberley from 2013, or read it and decide for yourself.

Since Tennant’s Austenesque-trek to boldly go where no author dared to go, there have been hundreds, possibly thousands, of Pride and Prejudice prequels, sequels, continuations, and inspired-by books. Recently we are in a retelling cycle—all presented with an ethnic twist. Last year we had Pride, by Ibi Zoboi, a contemporary retelling of Austen’s classic hate/love romance set in Brooklyn, NY featuring an all-black cast of characters. This year we have three new novels: Unmarriageable, by Soniah Kamal set in 2000 in Pakistan; Ayesha at Last, by Uzma Jalaluddin in which Darcy and Lizzy are transported to contemporary Canada featuring Muslim characters; and Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors, which after this long and winding introduction is the book I will discuss today.

Another contemporary retelling, PPAOF is set in the “bay area” of San Francisco, California. Loosely based on Jane Austen’s spikey romance where the roles of the rich, proud Fitzwilliam Darcy and the much-less-rich, prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet are reversed. Meet Dr. Trisha Raje, a brilliant thirty-something neurosurgeon specializing in cutting-edge microsurgery at a prominent hospital, who also happens to be an Indian Princess by default. Her father was the second son of the royal line of an Indian Principality which is no longer in power. When he immigrated to the US, his wealth and royal mien came with him. At the premature death of his older brother, he became HRM in name only. The family live like royalty in their Woodside estate with multiple servants and the exotic air of old-world nobility with all its privileges and baggage. Even though Trisha is a successful and highly prestigious doctor she is a disappointment to her parents, who cannot forgive her for a fifteen-year-old social faux pas against her brother, a rising Politician, and, the fact that she remains unmarried.

Trisha’s counterpart in this Pride and Prejudice switch-up is DJ “Darcy” Caine, who portrays the Elizabeth Bennet role. Their meet-cute happens in the family kitchen while he is catering her parent’s lavish party at their equally lavish mansion. Late for the party, she wanders into the kitchen in search of food after missing the main course. She enters his sanctum and disrupts his dessert preparations. Not a good first impression for either of them. Their spikey verbal sparring is the beginning of an un-friendship that will loosely follow Jane Austen’s classic story. By coincidence, his younger sister Emma is a patient of Trisha’s who is in need of risky brain surgery before she goes blind. DJ is rather dark and bitter, something that I would have never thought of the original Elizabeth Bennet, who Austen described in a letter to her sister Cassandra in 1813 as:

“I must confess that I think her as delightful a character as ever appeared in print, and how I shall be able to tolerate those who do not like her at least, I do not know.”

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors excels as a contemporary exploration of Indian culture in America. It is immersive and entertaining. Watching the family dynamics unfold was fascinating, and the description of food was mouth-watering too. Dev’s revamped plot was at times refreshing and at other times stilted. There is an event around the Julia Wickham character that I will not spoil that I found troubling. It was meant to shock as much as when Austen’s George Wickham attempted to elope with fifteen-year-old Georgiana Darcy in 1813. It does, and then some. How the characters react to this bad behavior was even more disturbing to me.

This novel could have stood alone without the interjection of Jane Austen’s characters and plot and been a success. It was creative, moving, and compelling. In the context of being a Pride and Prejudice retelling, I continually struggled with the gender/personality swapping and characterizations of the two main characters. Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet is spirited and outspoken; her Fitzwilliam Darcy is arrogant and reserved. Neither of Dev’s interpretations fulfilled this legacy for me. Both Elizabeth and Darcy’s character arcs are what makes the original so moving and memorable. They both realize their mistakes, grow from the experience, and fall in love. Unfortunately, I never believed that Dev’s characterizations of the original should end up as a couple.

Austen thought Pride and Prejudice, “too light, and bright, and sparkling; it wants shade.” Pride, Prejudice. and Other Flavors adds in the shade, making this modern retelling acutely current. I commend Dev for introducing issues that we are faced with today. However, fracturing fairytales is a tricky business and some dyed-in-the-wool Janeites will be disappointed in the freedoms that this story takes while other readers will be delighted with this culturally rich, modernization of a classic.

4 out of 5 Stars

Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors: A Novel, by Sonali Dev
William Morrow (2019)
Trade paperback, eBook and audiobook (496) pages
ISBN: 978-0062839053

PURCHASE LINKS:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Indiebound | Goodreads

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Cover image courtesy of William Morrow Books © 2019; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2019, Austenprose.com

 

Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice, by Curtis Sittenfeld – A Review

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfield 2016 x 200From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Jane Austen is a tough act to follow and that is exactly what the Austen Project asks contemporary authors to do: reimagine one of Austen’s novels in the here and now. Curtis Sittenfeld, author of four novels including Prep and American Wife, was chosen to take on Austen’s best-known work, Pride and Prejudice. While P&P-inspired books and films such as Bridget Jones’ Diary and Bride and Prejudice demonstrate that the story and its themes have broad appeal, I wondered how Sittenfeld’s Eligible would handle the main plot points in a modern setting. Many of the issues that Austen’s characters grappled with are barely recognizable if they exist at all in modern daily life.

In Eligible, the tension between the original story and Sittenfeld’s inventions kept me turning pages. Brief, episodic chapters mirror the short attention span of a digital era audience. In contemporary Cincinnati, Mr. Bennet spends as much time as possible alone at his computer, while Mrs. Bennet’s life revolves around country club gossip and planning luncheons for the Women’s League. Jane and Liz have carved out careers in Manhattan: the eldest Miss Bennet teaches yoga while her sister writes features for a magazine. They return to Cincinnati when Mr. Bennet has a heart attack. Their practical assistance and support are needed because their younger sisters, while living at home, are little help to their parents. Socially awkward Mary is pursuing her third online master’s degree while Kitty and Lydia, as crass and self-absorbed as ever, are obsessed with working out at the gym and following trendy diets. Sittenfeld’s group portrait of the Bennet clan was one of my favorite parts of Eligible. It’s easy to picture Jane Austen smiling at this: Continue reading

Longbourn’s Songbird: A Novel, by Beau North – A Review

Longbourns Songbird Beau North 2015 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny Ryder:

Much of the Jane Austen Fan Fiction that I read usually falls in to two categories: works that take place during the Regency Period and works that take place during contemporary times. Works that take place during times of war are fairly rare (Darcy Goes to War by Mary Lydon Simonsen being a notable exception) and works that take place in the South (Mary Jane Hathaway’s Jane Austen Takes the South series being the only other example I’ve read) are also unfamiliar to me. Enter Longbourn’s Songbird by debut author Beau North, a re-imagined version of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice taking place in 1940’s South Carolina.

It’s 1948, only three short years since the end of the Second World War. The setting is the small, sleepy town of Meryton, South Carolina in the American south. Will Darcy has come to visit Charles Bingley and conclude some business in the acquisition of Longbourn Farms. While there, he comes across Miss Elizabeth Bennet, who despite the painful events of her past finds that she can’t stop thinking about Mr. Darcy, who engages and challenges her enough to bring her out of the vanilla monotony that she has settled in to as of late to protect her emotionally. Not only do we get to experience the charged and engaging dynamic between Lizzie and Darcy, but we also have a host of other interactions that play out, including an interesting relationship between Bingley and Jane Bennet. Jane is terrified when she realizes that Charles fancies her and has recently purchased Netherfield Plantation, because she is afflicted by diabetes, which she knows will limit her lifespan and may make Bingley rethink his choice. Continue reading

Emma: A Modern Retelling, by Alexander McCall Smith – A Review

Emma Alexander McCall Smith 2015 x 200From the desk of Katie Patchell: 

Two years ago The Austen Project launched their first reimagined Jane Austen novel in the series, Sense and Sensibility (by Joanna Trollope), that has so far included Northanger Abbey (by Val McDermid), and the most recent, published in April of this year—Emma: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith. Heralded as ‘Jane Austen—Reimagined,’ each successive book has gathered mixed reviews, yet also a wide readership, as many fans of Jane Austen’s beloved classics look forward to finding out (with anticipation or trepidation) how each of Austen’s six novels have been modernized.

While I’ve enjoyed reading each of The Austen Project books so far, there’s a common issue faced in each of them, one that should be addressed in reviews and even everyday conversation. This issue is: How much can be modernized in any classic update without detracting from the original book? It’s always difficult to decide, as a reader and I’m sure as an author, what can be updated and altered for the 21st century, and what has to stay the same in order for the story to honor the original (and author’s intent). For instance, there are some things—such as views on love, sex, and marriage—that have been updated in this version of Emma to fit the author’s modern beliefs, which do not fit with the original Emma’s written views on these issues or Jane Austen’s beliefs. Some things hold true throughout the centuries, and sometimes removing these in a modern interpretation of a classic significantly takes away from the integrity and meaning of the story. Some of the differences found in this modernization include: Miss Taylor initially moves in with Mr. Weston before their marriage, Emma casually calls her dad ‘Pops’ all the time, Isabella Woodhouse and John Knightley are expecting twins before saying ‘I do,’ and Emma wonders if she’s attracted to females while painting Harriet in the nude. Continue reading

The Loner: (The Canyon Club Book 1), by Kate Moore – A Review

The Loner by Kate Moore 2014 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

I’ve always been a sucker for dark and brooding men in romance novels (hello Mr. Darcy!) One trait that seems to go along well with these types of characters is that they are loners in their own right. Yes, they may have friends and family around them, but their internal isolation is the first thing that they must overcome before they take on a new romantic interest. I find this struggle quite interesting, and therefore was excited to read The Loner by Kate Moore, which stars a loner much in the same predicament.

Will Sloan is a loner with a tough upbringing, coming from nothing and making a name for himself. His mother was a waitress and his father was a rodeo cowboy, killed in a tragic accident in the ring. The former scholarship student is now a wealthy tech entrepreneur, with a net worth in the billion dollar plus range. By all conventional accounts he shouldn’t have any shortage of friends, yet he still finds himself adrift amongst the party atmosphere of L.A., while his so-called friends urge him to get out and find Mrs. Right. He decides to attend his high school reunion on a whim in order to get out of this funk, and that’s when it happens: he sees Annie again. Continue reading

Aerendgast: The Lost History of Jane Austen, by Rachel Berman – A Review

Aerendgast The Lost History Rachel Berman 2015 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

There’s so much we don’t know about Jane Austen. Her sister, Cassandra, burned many of Jane’s letters when she died leaving many details of her life lost to time. Is it possible that the author of many of the world’s most memorable stories on love and marriage never married or had children of her own? In Aerendgast, Rachel Berman imagines a new history for our favorite author in a mystery adventure that’s one part Austen biography and one part The Da Vinci Code.

Violet Desmond doesn’t know much about her past. She was raised by her grandmother who never mentioned the truth about Violet’s parents or the tragic accident that left her an orphan. But, when Violet’s grandmother dies and leaves her a beautiful cameo necklace and a trunk filled with papers, Violet finally realizes she’s found the tools she needs to hunt down the truth… which also may have something to do with her favorite author, Jane Austen. Continue reading

The Muse: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Jessica Evans – A Review

The Muse by Jessica Evans 2014 x 200From the desk of Lisa Galek:

When most people think of Jane Austen, they probably don’t think of ballet. I know I certainly didn’t. That was until I read The Muse. With her contemporary reimagining of Pride and Prejudice, Jessica Evans proves that the demanding and competitive world of a professional ballet company is exactly the place where you might find a modern Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.

Elizabeth Bennet is a young dancer at the Ballet Theater of New York. While Elizabeth might not have her sister Jane’s perfect technique or ideal body, she still dreams of rising up the ranks to one day become a star. That’s why she’s thrilled when she finds out that she’s been cast in an upcoming ballet by former superstar dancer and legendary choreographer, William Darcy.

But, when Elizabeth finally meets Darcy, he’s not what she imagined at all. Sure, Darcy is immensely talented (and incredibly dreamy), but he’s also arrogant, abrasive, and dismissive in rehearsals. When Darcy asks Elizabeth for help as he choreographs, she grows to dislike him even more. What Elizabeth doesn’t realize is how much she’s inspiring Darcy as he creates. He’s finally found his muse. Continue reading