"Nobody turned my head with compliments. Nobody asked me to dance." An elegant accompaniment to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Jennifer Paynter’s The Forgotten Sister plucks the neglected Mary from obscurity and reveals her hopes and fears. Mary Bennet spends much of her time apart from her family, closeted in her room reading or playing her music, studying hard for accomplishments. As her four sisters become absorbed in their own romantic dramas, Mary stands apart, believing herself "not pretty enough" to dance with. She watches while Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley - and Mr. Wickham - waltz into her sisters’ lives, judging all three gentlemen quite dispassionately (and as it turns out, accurately). But Mary may not be quite so clear-sighted when she finally falls in love herself. She will first have to overcome her own brand of "pride and prejudice."
The Forgotten Sister is a well-written view of Pride and Prejudice through the eyes of Mary - the middle of the Bennett sisters. Through most of the Jane Austen title, Mary was pretty much a tool of embarrassment for Elizabeth, her sister. Here, the author attempts to flesh her out and give a new perspective on the bumbling scenes and endless sermonizing of the 'bluestocking' Bennett. Oddly, though, in a book clearly intended for Austenites, we're given a very dim view of both Elizabeth and Jane. And Mary, despite getting her own book, never really evolves into a sympathetic or even interesting character. I found I liked her no less or more after reading The Forgotten Sister. Sadly, I liked Elizabeth and Jane less as well.
Story: Mary is the 'lost' middle child of the Bennett family. Jane and Elizabeth have each other and their father's affection; Lydia and Kitty have each other and the attention of their mother. Mary, however, is shuttled off to different homes and influenced by the people she meets. Born without her older sisters' wit and beauty or younger sisters' vivacity, she is more an object of pity than familial love. Her father's patronizing communication and mother's abandonment especially grate; but Mary has music and she has scriptures. They are her weapon and her refuge as she watches life unfold around her family. Especially: Lizzy and Jane and their affairs with different men, scandals, and plotting before Bingley and Darcy enter the picture and Lydia and Kitty with their meanness. Armed with prayers and the Bible, will she remember the Lord's words as it relates to fellow man when she falls in love with a poor musician?
The story is rather long - starting with Mary's unfortunate birth. Honestly, although childhood situations set up later loves and heartaches, it did feel like the story took forever to actually get started. I wish it had been written in such a way as to start at the same time as P&P - there's just so much in there that felt like dead weight. The beginning only serves the purpose of setting up the third act; it doesn't really intrigue or entice the reader into Mary's story.
As well, I didn't like Mary. She was fairly wishy washy throughout - influenced by whomever was next to her at the time. Her little rebellions against her family were more impulses than an intelligent attempt to make a stand. Her observations on her sisters weren't charitable either - as far as she was concerned, she could have disappeared forever and no one had cared. It made Jane seem an idiot, Elizabeth a schemer (especially after a scandal involving Italians and an older nobleman to whom she is found kissing in secret), and father Bennett clearly biased toward only two daughters and disposed to forget the others. This may be realistic but it's not why I read Austen or why I would want to read about Mary Bennett. The heart and warmth of P&P was not only missing, but it was also ruthlessly stomped upon in The Forgotten Sister. You won't want to read this if you love Elizabeth or Jane's characters; they are ruthlessly skewered here.
I listened to the Audible version and the narrator did a decent job, though she did somehow make Mary sound even more bland. But she did tone down the hysterics of the mother and Lydia/Kitty combo. For once, there was no screeching.
So yes, an interesting take on Mary Bennett and not poorly written. But also lacking warmth and real heart. It's a story from a different perspective that perhaps didn't need to be told.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
I am not sure why the author chose to disparage beloved Austen characters to make her story work. In that sense this book is very annoying to listen to. If the characters were not already know to me through Austen’s writing I would have judged the story ok, though a bit far fetched. The writing is good.
Mary is a snob with an persecution complex. The narrator’s nasal voice for Mary seem dead on. Mary’s constant quoting of scripture and sayings from her book of wise sayings of other sets her apart. I really did not care for Mary.
Her sisters were typical women of that era concerned for marrying well . Their only outlook for the world around them was seen thru eyes of privileged. Mary was half in and an outsider with same prejudices of class and people. I’m just glad I forced myself to finish.
It was the most long and boring pride and prejudice variation ever. I could understand making Mary more of a flesh and blood person but the plot lines were entirely too drawn out.
What disappointed you about The Forgotten Sister?
The book is probably right up my alley. However, having Alexa in her monotone voice read me the book was a HUGE disappointment. I didn't realize when I ORDERED the voice version I would be getting Alexa as the narrator. Geez.
What character would you cut from The Forgotten Sister?
Seriously? ALEXA reading me a book? SNORE
Any additional comments?
You should WARN us of this. I'm used to real people reading/narrating. This was a huge bummer. Won't do this again.
1 of 2 people found this review helpful
A beautiful story giving Mary Bennett her rightful place. Also a nice outside/inside look at the well known characters from Jane Austen's most beloved book.
I had hopes of this book; Pride and Prejudice from a new point of view. Instead it was a sad telling of an unwanted daughter undergoing a deep depression and a love interest from "the lower orders." It came up with heavy handed explanations for her moralizing (in one case she was drunk!), and a last chapter that I found tedious in the extreme. The narration was adequate. Don't waste your credit.
Well done. Kept my interest all the way through. Great synchronization with the original story. Would love to hear the further adventures of Mary in Australia. Mary made an excellent main character in this book.
I always approach contemporary companion novels to Jane Austen works with hesitation, because I've been unfortunate enough to read several that were mediocre . This book, The Forgotten Sister, proved itself to be anything but mediocre . Mary Bennett, who in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, behaves in ways that alienate the people around her, is the subject of this wonderful story . I applaud the strong character that the author crafts here, a surprisingly endearing character who has, perhaps, very good reasons for not fitting in . This novel, which takes place before, during and after the events of the original story , is very faithful to Jane Austen's characters . I believe this story of Mary Bennett has actually made itself "Jane Austen cannon" in my heart. What higher praise can I offer than that?
This was such an enjoyable story! I don't know that even needed to be put on the frame of the Pride and Prejudice story. I loved Mary and could definitely relate to her awkwardness. It was a wonderful tale and an interesting look at the period. Her adventures were interesting and I really liked all the characters the author brought to life that were either simply mentioned in the original book or didn't even exist in Pride and Prejudice. Well written and well narrated.