Mary Lydon Simonsen
TRC Castle Garden Publishing
Maggie Joyce, a young woman who longed to escape the dreariness of her hometown of Minooka, Pennsylvania and her abusive family, was finally able to do so in June 1944. She was hired as a clerk typist with the Treasury Department in Washington. That led to work for the Army Exchange Service where she was assigned to Germany for a year after the war ended. She went with the expectation she would be moved to England and a year or so later, she was. It was while in England she met and fell in love with Rob McAllister an emotionally scarred man who crewed as a navigator on bombers that flew missions over Germany during the war.
She met him during the course of her travels while she began to contemplate the idea that a certain estate known as Montclair could have been the setting for Pemberley in Jane Austin’s novel “Pride and Prejudice.” Not only that but former residents of the estate, William Lacey and Elizabeth Garrison may have been the basis of Darcy and Bennet. Then too there is the issue of her new friends, Beth and Jack Crowell, who seem to know way too much about the inner workings of those families and others not to be involved and Maggie is at a loss to explain how they have in their possession so many personal detailed letters that seem to match book events.
Is it an elaborate hoax to beguile tourists or something more? Could it all really be true?
The horrors of war, the clash of religions, and the clash of classes in postwar England and earlier are the main themes of this highly detailed and complex novel. This is an ambitious work that attempts to paint with a broad brush several different time periods while weaving the various tales into a cohesive whole. Covering the period from 1900 to the immediate years after World War Two as well as the period of Jane Austin’s masterpiece is a formidable task. Despite the listing of thirty-eight names and four places in the cast of characters, the actual names dropped, discussed, and explored are easily three times that. At times it becomes a real struggle to keep things, especially in regards to relationships between all the parties real or fictional, straight and in order.
At 411 pages and with this amount of relationship complexity this is not a fast read nor was it intended to be one. Instead, it is more of an epic style romance that one does not usually see these days and is written in a style that reminds one of an older novel. Maggie, a romantic and a huge fan of the novel, is searching for her own life story and romance in a world that is changing rapidly. While the Second World War has changed everyone and everything, the aftermath of war is having a more profound affect on her and everyone around her while she seeks to mold her life into something akin to a literary experience. As she seeks answers in her own romance and is faced with decisions that will further shape her life, she seeks answers to a literary mystery and proof one way or the other.
Those readers very familiar with the novel in question will have a distinct advantage since more than half of this work is devoted to Jane Austin’s book. Beyond a very brief synopsis that gives the highlights of “Pride and Prejudice" and a few other literary works that are mentioned from time to time, much of the character discussion and narration relate to major and very minor events in that novel, mores and customs of the period, and the possible identities of the estate location and various characters. At the same time, the economic and cultural changes after World War Two at home and abroad in England should strike a cord in any reader that takes the journey back into time with this interesting novel. Romance and the difficulties of romance is a universal theme for nearly any reader and that theme is a constant backdrop for almost the entire novel.
Kevin R. Tipple © 2008
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