cover image The Other Bennet Sister

The Other Bennet Sister

Janice Hadlow. Holt, $27.99 (480p) ISBN 978-1-250-12941-3

Mary Bennet, the overlooked and unlikable fifth sister in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, learns to see herself and others clearly in Hadlow’s spectacular debut novel (after A Royal Experiment: The Private Life of George III). Born without the beauty her mother prizes or the wit needed to win her father’s attention, Mary takes refuge in books and study. By the time her sisters marry and her father dies, Mary’s self-esteem, optimism, and trust in others have vanished. Then a happy stay with her aunt and uncle Gardiner in London offers a new perspective, suggesting that she must value herself in order to be valued by others. Naturally for an Austen-inspired novel, with self-awareness comes the possibility of true love. Writing in prose with the crisp liveliness of Austen’s own, Hadlow remains true to the characterizations in Pride and Prejudice without letting them limit her. Mary’s emergence from priggish insecurity is beautifully imagined; Austen’s smarmy Mr. Collins gets a surprising but convincing rehabilitation, the Gardiners are joyously fleshed out, and London, never visited in the Austen canon, comes vividly to life. Equal to the best Austen spin-offs, including Jo Baker’s Longbourn, this will delight Janeites as well as lovers of nuanced female coming-of-age tales. (Mar.)