Saturday, 28 January 2012

Book Review – Murder at Mansfield Park, by Lynn Shepherd

I didn't really get off to a great start with this book. I put it down after one chapter – not because it was appalling, but because I was having trouble remembering the Who’s Who of Mansfield Park’s Bertram family. So I picked up and read the original to refresh my memory, and, as it turns out, that was the worst thing I possibly could have done. You see, M@MP is not tied quite so neatly into the original story (as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and Jane Slayre, are); rather than all the characters being more or less who they originally were, there are quite a few changes made to the lineup, viz.:

Fanny Price – sweet, shy, innocent, somewhat insipid foundling who is taken in by her Aunt Norris and promptly palmed off to the Bertram family (her other aunt); in the re-write she becomes an absolute bitch of an heiress and wanders about the place crushing the spirits of others and behaving somewhat inappropriately with men for an engaged woman, which makes it not entirely surprising that she is murdered.

Mary Crawford – shallow, cheeky, classless, and, perhaps unfairly, painted as all manner of bad things because she is Fanny’s unwitting competitor in love for Edmund Bertram and tries to set Fanny up with her brother; in the re-write she becomes everything that Fanny was originally but with perhaps a stronger character.
Edmund Bertram – gentlemanly, thoughtful, a little too thoroughly good and probably a little naïve youngest son of the Bertram empire and the apple of Fanny Price’s eye; in the re-write he is cast as somewhat more pathetic and ineffective as a man as he is jilted by Fanny Price and murder is attempted upon him.
You get the idea.
The book was confusing to begin with, and then kind of slow to take off (I always abhorred the time wasted on the Lover’s Vows rubbish in the original, so this is no different. I am aware it is a plot device designed to highlight the strengths and flaws of each character, but it doesn't make it any less tedious). Once the mystery got rolling I enjoyed it though, because it really was just about impossible to figure out whodunnit when everyone had a reason and an opportunity. I also liked the character of the inspector but found it to be  generally a little ham-handed.
Just now I Googled the book to jog my memory on the characters, and was a little surprised to find that several bloggers had commented on how much they hated the original Mansfield Park, or, at least, the original Fanny Price. I suppose that is because, when compared to such go-getters as Elizabeth Bennett, Miss Price very much falls short in intelligence, spirit and courage.
My personal belief is that although most star an obviously likeable level-headed or intelligent character, not a single Austen book goes by without one or two of the sisterhood letting the team down somehow (usually involving naivety, stupidity, selfishness or bitchiness), and it is simply a question of whether they can achieve it in a convincingly endearing manner. For example, I had a strong, negative reaction to Emma because the heroine consistently behaves like twat (that’s the technical literary term for it, btw!), even though the first line of the book tells us how clever she is. Ahh, irony.

In summary, if you hated Mansfield Park then you’re in with a shot for liking Murder at Mansfield Park, simply because Fanny Price is offed. I didn’t find it to be particularly well-written or especially compelling, but if you can make it through the first half without losing interest then the murder investigation in second half will reward you. Sort of.

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