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April 17, 2020

George Ernsberger - Columnist
Posted 4/17/20

THE OTHER BENNET SISTER by Janice Hadlow (Holt). Not just the next Jane-ite pastiche (though the column has liked some of those). Not even the first that centers on Mary, the coolly neglected middle …

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April 17, 2020

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THE OTHER BENNET SISTER by Janice Hadlow (Holt). Not just the next Jane-ite pastiche (though the column has liked some of those). Not even the first that centers on Mary, the coolly neglected middle sister in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. But it's the first I've seen that seems to dare a truly Jane-ish novel, not a slyly clever takeoff, something like a well-made film (though I hope Greta Gerwig hears of this book), but a serious comic novel, with depth of wit and insight both personal and cultural, and in a calmly confident version of Jane's own prose style, both sprightly and stately. Some readers will require a little patience through the first part (though there's real pleasure, too, in experiencing events we remember in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE in Mary's distinct, incidentally enlightening point of view). But, while the style never wavers, things we've learned since the Edwardian era begin to occur to us, as, in the final part, Mary moves from the provinces to the great city—to live with an aunt, still the genteel daughter of a country manor, but with expectations beyond (not necessarily instead of, but in addition to) making a good marriage (and, good by her own standards, that would be).

THE EIGHTH GIRL by Maxine Mei-Fung Chung (Morrow). Very accomplished novel, presented as a “psychological thriller,” which it is, by definition of those words—but if that popular fiction category is what comes to mind, well, not exactly. It's the most involving—really, enveloping—representation I've ever come across of a person with what used to be called “multiple personalities” (think THREE FACES OF EVE). Dissociative identity disorder, it's called now, and if that strikes you as coolly clinical, fine—but this book won't strike you that way. We're growing up a little, it seems to me; more deeply different sorts of people are being seen as who they are, and we're all getting more complicated and interesting as a result.

THE LAST TOURIST by Olen Steinhauer (Minotaur). The column reviewed his THE AMERICAN SPY as the climactic novel of a trilogy (eight years ago!), but now here is the reluctant assassin Milo Weaver, pulled out of retirement along with some colleagues (the “Department of Tourism,” remember?) to deal with a new strain of international nastiness. I know I needn't assure you that this is managed with undiminished energy and invention, and at depth.

THE KEEPER by Jessica Moor (Penguin). Very impressive, clear-eyed and fearless first crime novel of literary quality and bright clarity (another “not exactly a thriller,” though it's tense and suspenseful). Cause-informed—domestic violence—but an honestly made novel, not a sermon, a good read. A writer to be alert to, now.

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