Saturday, June 28, 2008

Suspense and Sensibility by Carrie Bebris

As much as I liked Pride and Prescience, I didn't like Suspense and Sensiblity. The prologue ruined the entire book. From page one it was obvious exactly what the conundrum was and what problems it would cause for the characters in the book. I sincerely wonder why Bebris felt it necessary to give away the entire mystery before page one. I will admit, nonetheless, that the final explanation and wrap up of the storyline was interesting. I stayed up after midnight to finish reading. But, that decision was motivated half by a desire to find out exactly how she would conclude the novel and half by a desire to just be done with it.
Despite the very strong flaw of Suspense and Sensibility I still believe that Bebris is doing a remarkably good job writing in the style of Jane Austen. The premise of this book is that Elizabeth and Darcy have returned to London with little sister Kitty in tow to find her a husband. The complex interworkings of turn of the century London and all of its detailed rules of decorum are hard to mimic, yet Bebris has successfully sustained a believability in the Regency era plot. There are momentary comments that pass between Darcy and Elizabeth that I would question, but overall I think she has captured the essence of relations between men and women very well.
It is not surprising to me that in her acknowledgements Bebris thanks a Romance society. The books are a bit mystery, a bit fantasy, and a bit romance. It is the romance part that I think detracts from her abilities to write a true Austenian style book. She feels it necessary to introduce romantic quips between her two main characters. They are leading, but never overt. Nonetheless, from everything that I have read from the era, even the leading comments would have been unlikely even between a husband and a wife.
I had to go back and read a synopsis of Sense and Sensibility as I started reading this novel. The characters - not surprisingly based on the title - derive from Austen's first published novel. She incorporates the main characters, now a generation removed from the plot of the original work. The decision to introduce all of Austen's characters to one another is intriguing, but heavy-handed. I like the idea that each novel exists in its own world. To collide the worlds rings remarkably false. For me, while I recognize it as a selling point and a unique twist for Bebris, this choice detracts from the interest of the series.
It is rare that I find a first book better than subsequent novels. Often writers improve with time. But, in this case, I feel like the first book was a fun departure while the second book was just a cash cow. Now that I've started the third, I'll have to decide whether she continues to decline or if the second book was just a bad fluke.

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