Summarizing thoughts from Goodreads.com:
A life altering event inextricably links a fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Bennet to Fitzwilliam Darcy while simultaneously creating an almost insurmountable divide. This Pride and Prejudice deviation takes the reader on a journey through a labyrinth filled with misunderstandings, bias, guilt and fear - not to mention, laughter, animal magnetism and waltzing. As Elizabeth says, 'she shed enough tears to float one of Lord Nelson's frigates' but as she learned from her father 'unhappiness does, indeed, have comic aspects one should never underestimate.'
Though the path for our protagonists is much more arduous than canon, the benefit remains the same; a very happy Janeite ending for these two star-crossed lovers. Along the way there is retribution, redemption and reward for other characters - including a few that recall players in two grave injustices as written by Ms Austen in Sense and Sensibility. These grievances prompted this long-time struggler for women's rights to write a tale that provided these women vindication.
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Some Austenesque fiction is meant to be read quickly and taken in like a light, cool treat on a hot summer day. Other derivations are less of this persuasion and more like a sumptuous, multi-course victual event. Beth Massey’s Goodly Creatures is of the latter variety. This writer of fan fiction, women’s rights advocate and educated reader of Shakespeare has crafted a novel that many Janeites would find nourishing and entertaining, provided they can accept a certain proviso at the start.
This review will not reveal many spoiling plot points, but there is one aspect of the tale that is crucial to the reader’s enjoyment of the novel. And as the event in question is particularly addressed in the book’s opening acknowledgments, I feel confident that Ms. Massey will not take offense at my mentioning it in my review.
All Austenesque fiction requires a bit of a leap—that moment when the author diverts from Jane Austen’s work, and the reader must choose to go along for the ride in order to enjoy the journey. In Goodly Creatures, Elizabeth Bennet does encounter a rake as she does in the original Pride and Prejudice. However, in this iteration of the story, the rake is a different man than the scheming George Wickham. This new villain is far more wicked, and at age 15, Elizabeth is significantly younger than the fundamental Lizzy in Austen’s work. She is young and naïve, and this leads to her violation by this horrific man.
When I read in the acknowledgments that Massey was “committing a major heresy by raping Elizabeth Bennet”, I was shocked and surprised that she would take this tack in her storytelling. However, I decided to keep an open mind to see where the story would take us. As the author could relate to this incident personally, I didn’t think she would use the event in a gratuitous or exploitative way. If anything, she would use this assault to speak to the issue of crimes against women, not only in the 19th century, but in our modern day as well.
Beth Massey won me over in her storytelling. Goodly Creatures is a wonderful homage to not only Jane Austen’s work, but to Shakespeare, poetry and art. There are so many occasions when Massey fuses her work with that of so many talented writers and artists, producing a richness that is not always found in this kind of novel. The difficult issues surrounding Elizabeth’s assault are handled with realism, but without excessive details. No, this is not for young girls to read. We are definitely in mature territory here. But the themes of injustice, retribution, forgiveness and healing are so incredibly pronounced—it’s well worth the hard moments that we encounter.
Massey’s writing is extremely well crafted. Her academic knowledge shines through, but she pairs it with excellent, accessible wording. She takes her time with the story, with over 600 pages of text in the volume. And while I did appreciate the fact that nothing was rushed in this epic, there were moments at the end (particularly in the Epilogue, as satisfying as it was), when I felt that the story could have been trimmed just a bit. But this is a minor concern. I genuinely enjoyed the vast majority of the novel.
Those looking for a serious, extended, satisfying journey with Jane Austen’s beloved characters (and a few new ones) will find an excellent read in Beth Massey’s Goodly Creatures. With sobering subjects and a particularly depraved villain, this novel is not for the faint of heart. However, Massey’s Pride and Prejudice diversion is well worth the journey. I encourage those who are willing to take the leap into her vision of this story and become enveloped in it. Like the world we live in, Goodly Creatures is tragic, difficult, and yet glorious as well.
Goodly Creatures Giveaway
Thanks to Beth Massey, we have three copies of Goodly Creatures to give away! She's offering one paperback and two e-book copies to us. Be sure to read the guidelines below, enter via the Rafflecopter widget, and good luck!
- The contest period ends at 12:01am EST on October 21, 2012.
- Contest is open to U.S. and International entrants. Come one, come all!
- Make sure you leave your email address in the one required portion of the Rafflecopter form. Should you win, I will contact you on Sunday, October 21st. Please take measures to ensure that my email will make it past your spam filters, lest you miss my message. (CalicoCritic@gmail.com) You'll have 72 hours to respond before I pick another winner.
- All entries must go through the Rafflecopter form. If you leave a blog post comment, in order for it to count toward your contest entry, be sure to indicate this through the "Leave a Blog Post Comment" button on the form.
- The winner's delivery information will be sent to Beth Massey for prize shipment.
- Entries will be verified. If a fraudulent entry is detected for the winning name, another winner will be drawn.
If you can't see the Rafflecopter form below,
try clicking on the "Read more »" link
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