“Mama, Papa, please?” Lydia wheedled. “Can I attend a ball? I promise you, I would behave. I would not dance; I would just like the opportunity to see all the lovely ball gowns and pretend that I am a lady who is out in society.”
“No, my dear, I am firm on this point,” said her father.
“I am in agreement with your Papa,” Mrs. Bennet said. “Remember, you have three older sisters unmarried yet, and Kitty has precedence and will most certainly be promoted before you. At least one of your eldest sisters should be married before we add you and Kitty to the group. It would be considered improper to have all five daughters out at once.”
(from Alias Thomas Bennet, page 97)
Alias Thomas Bennet is one of the most unique retellings of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that I’ve come across so far in that it makes Mr. Bennet a main character. Suzan Lauder imagines what might have happened had Mr. Bennet been more careful with his finances and he and Mrs. Bennet had been more attentive to their daughters’ education and manners. In this variation, it’s Mr. Bennet’s secrets that put his daughters in danger.
The novel centers on the question “Who is Thomas Bennet?” Readers will question his identity as soon as Mr. Darcy questions whether they have met before and as soon as it becomes clear that all of the Bennet sisters are well-mannered, intelligent, and accomplished. Lauder takes readers back and forth in time to watch the evolution of Thomas and Fanny’s relationship and slowly reveals the truth of his identity. There are darker forces at work in this novel, but I prefer a mystery and a villain bent on revenge over a lighthearted retelling focused only on Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s romance.
Lauder’s portrait of the Bennets as a close-knit, intellectual family and Thomas and Fanny as sensible and completely in love was refreshing. Even without Mrs. Bennet’s nerves and outrageous comments all in the name of matchmaking and Mr. Bennet’s complete disregard of his youngest daughter’s lack of propriety, Lauder manages to put plenty of obstacles in the way of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth’s happiness. I loved that even when I thought I’d pieced together Mr. Bennet’s story, I hadn’t, and that even after all was revealed, I still had no idea how it would all play out.
Alias Thomas Bennet is a real treat for fans of Austen-inspired fiction, and I cannot praise its originality enough. Lauder’s portrayal of Mr. Bennet as a hands-on father and a man desiring a quieter, less important life than the one to which he was entitled is heartwarming, as is his relationship with Mr. Darcy. I was pleasantly surprised by Lauder’s elevation of Mr. Bennet to the status of hero alongside Mr. Darcy, but it made for a book that I simply couldn’t put down. Alias Thomas Bennet uses Austen’s beloved characters to show a different side of the Bennet family and emphasizes that one’s name is less important than one’s character.
Disclosure: I received Alias Thomas Bennet from Meryton Press for review.
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