So anyways I spent last week in bed with covid – or if not in bed, then lolling about on the couch in front of the TV. Don’t worry, I’m on the mend now and well and truly back at work (remotely, of course), but even small exertions (both physical and mental) tire me out exceedingly – and I’m still testing positive. Heigh ho.
I did, however, use my downtime well – by catching up on TV and books.
First up I watched Agatha Christie’s Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? The whole series is available on iView on ABC TV and I inhaled it.
Then it was time for the one I’d really been looking forward to – Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders on Britbox. It was, as is everything Horowitz writes – fabulous. Someone asked me how it compared to the book, and I had to really think about my answer, but the truth was I didn’t care. It was as if the book and the TV show were each perfect in their own way – which, I guess, is the way it should be. Any difference between the page and the screen was done for good and effective reasons.
That’s the way I usually approach a book to TV/movie adaptation – mainly because my focus is such that my recall of details tends to be sketchy – although there have been a few clangers that I haven’t been able to ignore. Bill Bryson’s A Walk In The Woods, being the most obvious of these; oh how I loved the book, oh how awkward was the movie.
Others I know so well it’s difficult to (completely) separate the two – and any Jane Austen adaptation falls into that category. With them, I find it difficult not to be too judgemental.
Since we’ve been reading Jane Austen in our book club, I’ve also rewatched Persuasion (the version with Rupert Penry-Jones as Wentworth) and Pride and Prejudice – the 1995 version with Colin Firth as Mr Darcy, Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth, and that lake scene.
In the case of the former, while it’s a good movie it doesn’t quite hit some of the subtle notes in the book. As for the latter, of all the Austen screen adaptations, not only is the casting perfect, but the script is also as faithful to the original text as it’s possible to be – although (spoiler alert) Darcy didn’t emerge from the lake in the book. Sad but true.
As I write this I’ve just completed a rewatch of Death Comes to Pemberley – PD James’ sequel to P&P – just days after I finished reading it. Because I’d only just finished reading the book I noticed the differences in the screen adaptation, but those differences worked.
While there’s a whole industry of Austen spin-offs and sequels – particularly in relation to P&P – this one feels as if Jane herself could have written it. It is, I’ve decided, the only sequel that should have been written.
Like a modern extension built on to the big house, which recognises and respects the architecture of the original but which is not afraid to stand out and be its own very different thing as well…It’s period drama meets Agatha Christie, Midsomer Murders even, with a hint of CSI Pemberley.The guardian
The characters are true to how they were originally written (except I was disappointed by Colonel Fitzwilliam) and the issues that come up in Elizabeth and Darcy’s marriage are those that might come up at the six or seven-year mark – without the murder, of course.
It’s why I was slightly disappointed when immediately after finishing Death Comes To Pemberley I picked up The Murder of Mr Wickham by Claudia Gray. I enjoyed it, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I’d read it in isolation rather than constantly thinking to myself, ‘no no no, that didn’t happen like that!’ or ‘Georgiana didn’t marry him…’.
I adored how Gray gathered so many of Austen’s characters into one house at the one time and turned it into a cosy crime, but where PD James drew believable extensions of Elizabeth and Darcy, Gray’s characters felt more two-dimensional in comparison – perhaps because she was tackling so many of them. I do, however, suspect I’m being overly critical and it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.
Another Austen spin-off I read during the month was Molly Greeley’s The Heiress, an imagining of Anne de Bourgh’s tale. Like her early novel, The Clergyman’s Wife, centring on Charlotte Collins nee Lucas (and one of my favourite reads of 2020), this was beautifully written, heartbreaking in places, and quietly joyful and hopeful in others.
Spin-offs and sequels aside, I’ve also finished reading the original – Pride and Prejudice – since we last spoke. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it over the years but every time is like the first time and every time I’m left thinking, ‘where has this book been all my life?’ even though it’s been right there beside me for the whole of my adult life.
Jane Austen (and Austen spin-offs) aside, what else have I been reading since last we spoke?
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service?
The Windsor Knot and Three Dog Problem, by SJ Bennett
My fabulous editor recommended The Windsor Knot and I couldn’t think of a book more appropriate for all the Jubilee/Queen’s Birthday long weekend shenanigans (if one didn’t have covid and could get up to shenanigans, that is…). It’s cosy crime starring Her Maj as a (very) private investigator – and it’s gold with some very funny tongue-in-cheek moments (forgive my highlights…).
I enjoyed it so much that I rushed straight to the virtual bookstore and bought the next – to read on my iPad as I couldn’t be doing with the wait to get a physical copy.
As was the case with Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club, the mystery in Her Maj No2 (as I’m calling it) is better in this sequel. I stayed up way later than I should have in order to finish it and have already pre-ordered no. 3.
Cookbook of the month
The Little Library Cookbook, by Kate Young
Three of my greatest loves in life are books, baking and books about baking – so a cookbook that combines all three is a very good thing indeed.
Part memoir, part cookbook, The Little Library Cookbook began life as a blog where food-related passages from Young’s favourite books inspire memories – and recipes. As a result, it has been an absolute joy to read – to the extent that the recipes were (for me) almost an afterthought, although they shouldn’t be. I had to go back and bookmark the recipes I wanted to make rather than my usual practice of doing it on the first read.
You can read the full review – including a recipe for Buttermilk scones, here.
Deb, Donna, Sue and I would love you to share what you’ve been reading. If you have a favourite spin-off or adaptation, I’d love to hear about that too. The linky is below – and it’s open until Monday evening (AEST).