Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Searching for Pemberley


Searching for Pemberley
by Mary Lydon Simonsen

(Sourcebooks Landmark / 1-402-22439-7 / 978-1-402-22439-3 / December 2009 / 496 pages / $14.99 / Amazon $10.19)
Reviewed by Dianne Salerni for PODBRAM

Maggie Joyce, a young American living in post-World War II England, begins this novel by searching for Pemberley – or, rather, visiting a Regency-era home that may have been the inspiration for the stately home of Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s famous novel. However, a simple afternoon excursion and a conversation about a beloved book ultimately lead Maggie into a soulful search for her own heart’s content.

I read the original, self-published version of this novel, Pemberley Remembered, and enjoyed it very much. This newer, enriched version, published by Sourcebooks in December 2009, is superior, however, in that it weaves multiple layers of history and romance into a compelling tale and satisfactorily wraps up a narrative that was left open-ended in the original book.

Maggie’s interest in the story of a Regency-era family who may have inspired Jane Austen’s timeless book Pride and Prejudice blossoms into an enduring friendship with the British couple who have kept and catalogued the family letters and diaries. Through these historical documents, readers are treated to a retelling of the P & P story, with characters and events just different enough from the Austen novel to keep things interesting. Soon, however, we become immersed in the story of the British couple themselves, Beth and Jack Crowell. Beth is a descendent of the Darcy family (here named Lacey) and Jack is the son of her family’s butler. Their unorthodox and class-breaking romance is set against the backdrop of World War I, when a generation of young Englishmen were killed, maimed, or emotionally-scarred by the horrors of war.

Meanwhile, as Maggie grows closer to these people, she begins a romance of her own with a former American flyer, Rob McAllister, who bears visible and not-so-visible scars from his own experiences bombing Germany. As Maggie tentatively embarks on her first true love affair, she finds herself conflicted. She loves Rob, but he will not commit to her, and she is undeniably attracted to Michael Crowell, the son of Beth and Jack, a man she barely knows, but whose family (and ancestors) she has come to love.

This novel intricately weaves multiple timelines of British history – the Regency era and both World Wars – and also includes an engaging glimpse of Maggie’s own hometown in the coal-mining region of the Pennsylvania Pocono Mountains, near Scranton. Simonsen has created characters who tug at your heart and skillfully paints an emotional picture of the devastation of war. When Jack Crowell, who lost a brother and two brothers-in-law in the first war, reacts to the news that his younger son has been assigned to combat in Burma, I was reduced to tears. However, there were also plenty of joyful and truly funny moments, such as a diary entry in which “Mrs. Bennet” gives advice on the marriage bed to her daughters and a humorous retelling of the eldest Crowell son facing a “privacy hole” cut into the bedcovers on his wedding night in Italy.

Searching for Pemberley is a historical romance of complexity and depth, with skillfully layered characters that readers will remember for a long time.


See also: The High Spirits Review
Dianne's review of The Second Date
Mary Lydon Simonsen's Blog

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