I’m generally not a huge fan of books that take a beloved piece of literature and say, “Oh, but what if the story was told from THIS character’s perspective??” because I live in fear of being told, “The characters you thought you loved are secretly awful! See them for what they are! Repent in dust and ashes! Weep, children, weep!!” Call me salty if you like, but I’m just not here for dark AUs.
My point (and I do have one) is that I fully expected to not enjoy Lydia (Natasha Farrant). And if you’re thinking, Well, gee, Ruby, if you hate retellings so much, why did you pick one up?, the answer is this:
It had a pretty cover. And I am weak.
What Lydia is about:
Lydia is the wild child of the Bennet bunch. Her older sister, Mary, gives her a journal in which to write, hoping that it will make her less of a disaster. It does not work.
My thoughts on Lydia:
I’ve never much liked Lydia Bennet until this book. In the original novel, she’s kind of horrible – so impetuous, so selfish, so utterly and infuriatingly ridiculous – but then, pretty much everybody in Pride and Prejudice is like that. So you can’t really hold it against her.
But this book? This version of Lydia? I fell hard for her on page one. I’m not even talking about the first page of the story – I’m talking about the page with the date on it, wherein she explains that it is,
but really DECADES behind the civilised world because we are in the Depths of the English countryside where
and I just…love that??? I’m SO WEAK for teenage girls who feel stuck in their scrotty little towns and villages, and who are restless and want to see the wider world and live lives of glamour and excitement, and who are a little bit salty and a whole lot ridiculous. It’s a very specific aesthetic, but it’s mine.
(that’s the 5,098,637th time I’ve called something my aesthetic, in case you’re wondering)
The writing style reminds me a lot of Louise Rennison’s. It’s silly and lightweight and just a touch salty. But it’s also – and this is where Natasha Farrant’s style deviates from Louise Rennison’s – eminently restless and hopeful. Lydia wants to get out of Hertfordshire and see the world that she doesn’t even know much about. She doesn’t know where the Mediterranean is, or what countries border it, but she still wants to see it. She floats in the Waire, which is just a stream, and thinks about how it flows into the Lea, which flows into the Thames, which flows through London and into the sea.
She knows there’s a whole world out there that she may never see because she’s the youngest of five girls in 1811 and that just about kills her – but it never kills her hope that maybe, someday, she’ll get to see it all. And when she does get a chance to go out into the world, and she finds that it’s not at all what she thought it would be, she still picks herself up and ploughs on.
That, I think, is the critical factor. Lydia refuses to be crushed by the world, by her family, by her gender, by her socioeconomic status, by anything that could very easily squish her hopes like a bug on a windshield. If she didn’t have that determined hopefulness, this book would probably be unbearable. She’d just be wandering through it, silly and vapid and pretty much like she is in the original. Lydia gives Lydia purpose. She doesn’t just want a husband who’s handsome and rich; she wants “Someone magnificent…who will make the rest of you wild with envy, and who will take me a long, long way from here” (Farrant 2016).
Another nice detail was that Wickham isn’t recast as some poor, misunderstood lil’ babby. He’s still a conniving piece of sh*t, and Lydia KNOWS it. She doesn’t fall head over heels for him and ignore his bad points; she finds herself stuck with him and decides that, one way or another, she’ll make the best of it – in the same way that she’s made the best of bad situations her whole life.
Lydia is very much Lydia’s story. She’s not that concerned with what anyone else is getting up to, and for me, that added to her overall charm. She’s got purpose beyond being a side character in Pride and Prejudice, and I’m glad she does, because her joyous yen for adventure, even at the cost of stability, makes her more than worthy of being a main character.
Do you like retellings? Have you read any good ones lately? Or do you prefer to stick with the original canon?