A great number of Pride and Prejudice sequels have been published, and they vary much in terms of quality. Fortunately, Kathryn Nelson's Pemberley Manor is one of the good ones, sympathetic to the writing style of Jane Austen, not changing any of the characters significantly, and adding a few of her own characters to enliven the story.
Pemberley Manor begins the day of the double wedding between Lizzy and Darcy and Jane and Bingley. We follow Lizzy and Darcy's first months together as they learn about each other and as their different temperaments adjust to one another. The author writes with real affection for the characters, showing their love for each other on each page yet also giving them some privacy from the reader in terms of bedroom scenes (a welcome aspect of this book compared with some others that have detailed the sex lives of these much-loved literary creations; too much information for me!).
The central theme here is understanding why Darcy seemed so proud and unfriendly at Meryton, when the servants at Pemberley described him so positively to Lizzy when she visited in Pride and Prejudice. Kathryn Nelson looks to Darcy's parents for the explanation of this side of his nature, and the book is a gradual unfurling of the history of the elder Mr. Darcy and his wife and how their individual behavior reflected on their son - and, to some extent, on Georgiana. This theme is quite heavy throughout and focused on Darcy rather than Elizabeth, although of course she is there throughout the pages. We are also reacquainted with Bingley, Jane, Caroline Bingley, Mr. and Mrs. Hurst, and some Pemberley servants such as Mrs. Reynolds. Some characters from Pride and Prejudice don't appear in this story, such as Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Mr. Collins, and most of the people at Meryton are only mentioned briefly.
Although I enjoyed this book and feel that Kathryn Nelson's grasp of the language of Austen's book is strong, a couple of things about Pemberley Manor didn't sit quite right with me. The first is the title: the author has affixed 'Manor' to the name Pemberley and refers to the house as the Manor in places in the text. The thing is, Manor isn't a common word for a country house in the UK, unless it is part of the house's official name (which it wasn't in this case, or in the case of another house which she also calls a Manor). The author's use of British English is quite accurate, but she does let slip a few Americanisms, such as using the verb 'quit' and having people 'visit' to mean 'converse with people', as well as referring to the third season as 'fall'. However, there are fewer examples of these errors than usual in American-authored Regencies, so I was impressed.
The other big issue with this book is its twentieth-century habit of navel gazing, revisiting the past, trying to come to terms with events from one's childhood. I have no doubt that childhood events affected people's adult lives in the 19th century, but somehow I couldn't quite believe that Darcy and Elizabeth would talk quite as they do here to each other, particularly with regard to exploring Darcy's history and unfolding it slowly (and, at times, in an irritatingly bitty manner). Darcy also seems an exceptionally emotional man, regularly succumbing to tears, which doesn't chime with my reading of his character from Pride and Prejudice.
Pemberley Manor is a long read and seems to try to work itself up to the big final scene. For this reader the pacing and scene-building didn't really work, the major upheaval at the end felt a little flat, and the revelations about and reactions to events surrounding Darcy's parents'
marriage seems more modern than the time in which they are set.
While the narrative does drag in places and some aspects of the story are
over-simplistic, the author is good at crafting new scenes, refraining from
prying into the bedroom but still showing the ways in which Darcy and Elizabeth interact with far more detail than Jane Austen gives.