Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Woman of Influence by Rebecca Ann Collins

A Woman of Influence, is the ninth book in the The Pemberley Chronicles, a continuation of the story of the Darcy, Bingley, Lucas, and Gardiner families who began their story in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. The chronicles tell the stories of the marriages of their children and grandchildren. Though I felt sorry for poor Mary Bennett, who for some unexplained reason was left out.

Rebecca Ann Collin's latest novel is about the middle years of Becky Collins, the younger daughter of Charlotte Lucas’ and Mr Collins. When Becky was young, she fell in love with Jonathan Bingley, the son of Jane Bennett and Mr Charles Bingley, only to be left heartbroken when he married her sister, Amelia-Jane, and again when he took as his second wife, Becky’s cousin, Anna.

Becky married a man she didn’t love out of hurt pride, but the marriage was not a success and they separated. The story begins soon after her husband’s death, when Becky is a relatively new widow and against her domineering son’s selfish wishes, sells her London house and buys a place of her own in Kent.

Dedicated to good works and an independent life, Becky sets about looking for deserving lame ducks to help and finds two sleeping in a barn in the form of a young woman, Alice and her son, Tom. When she hears this waif’s story of injustice and betrayal resulting in the imprisonment of her husband, Becky is determined to obtain a pardon for the young man.

The means by which she does this, apart from a visit to Alice's employer, is to write letters and eagerly await the replies. When the longed-for pardon does come, its arrival and delivery to the grateful Alice, comes as an anticlimax, because there was never any doubt one would be granted.

Becky spends an inordinate time mooning over Jonathan Bingley, until an Italian gentleman from the past with whom she established more than a passing fondness - another man she loved and lost - comes back into her life. This event gave me something to hope for, in that Becky would finally find happiness after her unfortunate history with the men in her life.

In order to keep the reader updated, the author alludes to tragedy and loss in the past for the Darcy and Bingley children, however I found everyone was a bit too perfect, devoted, kind, and loving. When the characters spoke about each other, or came together, there was nothing but kisses and delight. No dark secrets, angst or bad feeling emerged that might have lent some interest to a pedestrian story. Even the fact Becky lost her true love to her sister is mentioned with restrained emotion and understanding rather than as the cause of sibling resentment it might have.

Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy do not feature in this book – which may be because the timeline puts them in their seventies at this stage. The style of writing is reminiscent of Jane Austen, in that it is an account given by an omniscient narrator who occasionally dips into a conversation or someone's thoughts.

There is the odd gem, for instance at the opera, Jonathan Bingley remarks that, ‘..a lady’s knowledge of the opera is usually in inverse proportion to the value of the gems she wears to the performance.’ Instead of a sharp Lizzy Bennett response, all he gets back is a light protest and a hope that Becky and Anna aren’t wearing too many jewels.

This narrative lacks Austen’s nuances of language, her exquisite humour, and her insight into her characters that give colour and life to a story of genteel folk going about their generally uninteresting lives. I also saw the characters move through Regency settings because there was little to remind me we were in Victorian England apart from the occasional mention of trains.

I found Becky rather uninteresting, and although independent, she was not at all unconventional in any way that drew criticism. However, for those who have read the other books in the series, it may be the culmination of a family saga which ties up loose ends. The story is gentle and with no real high and lows, but a slow and steady progression to a satisfying end for Becky.