Vanity and Vexation: A Novel of Pride and Prejudice by Kate Fenton

I couldn’t really recall what books I was planning to borrow from the library for Everything Austen and I’d stumbled on this book online while idly perusing sales on Bookcloseouts (50% off certain fiction titles, I eventually resisted, I am so strong), so I picked it up there. Vanity and Vexation was originally published as Lions and Liquorice in the UK and renamed for US publication. I suppose Vanity and Vexation was a closer approximation to Pride and Prejudice than Lions and Liquorice was, although Lions are briefly mention in the book (name of a pub), as is liquorice (in a conversation between the hero and heroine). I’m going to add this to the #everythingausten pile as number 4 of the 6 Austen related works I’ve read and watched this year.The Premise: This is another of those modern-day Jane Austen retellings I seem to love, this time with Pride and Prejudice and gender reversals. Lizzy Bennet’s alter-ego is Nicolas Llewellyn Bevan, a suspense/thriller author and part-time journalist, who lives and writes in North Yorkshire. His Mr. Darcy is Mary Dance, the director of a Pride and Prejudice production which has taken over his town: “Tall, dark and arrogantly handsome – not to mention distinguished, powerful and rolling in money. Mr Darcy? No, that’s just the woman director of Pride and Prejudice…'” Nicolas’ neighbor John is a blond-haired, blue eyed, boyscout who is the Jane equivalent, and the star of the production, actress Candia Bingham.

An Excerpt of Vanity and Vexation

My Thoughts: This is sort of chick-lit but the writing is heavier than the typical chick lit. The characters are more moody than fluffy, and do a lot of smoking, drinking (so much drinking!), swearing and occasionally, having sex. It’s also very British (or should I say Welsh, because Nick is Welsh?), peppered with words like Dettol and talk of Bank Holidays. The writing is intelligent without being overbearing (I hit a few vocabulary words I didn’t know, like “Hogarthian” and “anodyne”, but it didn’t interrupt the flow of the story).

I thought the role reversal idea was very clever and had a lot of fun identifying the alter-egos to Jane Austen’s original cast. Mr. Bingley and Darcy and Jane and Elizabeth were easy. Side characters were identified relatively easy as well, like Mr and Mrs Bennet in the local bar owner and his wife, Lydia in a 17 year old teen named Christopher, and Caroline Bingley as a lead actor in the production, but there were some characters I am still not quite sure about. Was Lady Catherine de Burgh’s alter ego, Mary’s father, a hotshot Hollywood producer? Or was it Sir Gerant Price-Evans? And although Nicolas’ friend Charlie seems obvious as Lizzy’s best friend Charlotte Lucus, he spends much more time talking to his ex-wife Caroline about what’s going on than to Charlie.

I liked the way Fenton translated the problems in Pride and Prejudice into modern times. Nicolas does not need Mary for money, but her connections as a director who could option his book for the screen is another matter. The modern translation for whisking away Lydia and Darcy finding her and marrying her to Wickham is also smartly done – I think I was more concerned for Nick and others in the debacle in this book than I ever was for Lydia. That particular part of the book, actually, the last 100 pages really grabbed me.  The first two thirds I read in a day, but with some putting it down and picking it up again.

The romance between John and Candia (the Jane and Mr. Bingley characters) was rather sweet and stayed true to the original with love at first sight at a dance, but while the Nick and Mary (Liz and Darcy) romance followed the basic path that was in Pride and Prejudice, and it had it’s moments, it was not the same. First, I wish there were more scenes from Mary’s side of things to show her interest in Nick. Maybe it’s because this book was in the third person but following Nick that we only see the beginning of his infatuation, but not hers. Secondly, there’s really never any true animosity between them. Nick never starts off with a bad impression of Mary Dance. She seems aloof but not enough for him to dislike her the way Lizzy Bennet dislikes Darcy at first.  And Mary/Darcy never really does the infamous misstep in pointing out the inferiority of Nick/Lizzy’s connections and his feelings despite his better judgement, not quite in the way Mr. Darcy does. It’s more like they do like each other, Mary thinks Nick doesn’t dress very well, and isn’t sure they’re well suited but still wants him. Other factors strive to separate them, like the misunderstanding caused by the Wickham character, and Nick’s discovery of Mary’s role in keeping John and Candia together.  Like I said, it had it’s moments, especially in the second half of the book, but it wasn’t quite as delicious.

Another thing that bothered me was that this book suddenly changed after chapter 12. Suddenly the writer decided to go in a completely different direction, hits reset on character names, and the style is suddenly more relaxed. The style was an improvement but I did not like having an explanation for the switch. How annoying!

Note: I’m beginning to notice how many P&P related chick lit seem to have a writer or journalist as a main character (Austenland, Pride and Prejudice and Jasmine Fields, Me and Mr. Darcy, Vanity and Vexation), or an actor or director (Austenland, Pride and Prejudice and Jasmine Fields,Vanity and Vexation). Hmm.

Overall: A clever idea and fun to spot the gender role reversals and modern take on the Pride and Prejudice plot. Not a bad weekend read, but not without it’s flaws, including an iffy switch-up 12 chapters in, and a romance that was lovely but doesn’t quite live up to the original.

Buy: Amazon | Powells

Other reviews:
I couldn’t find any in the blogs I follow, but here’s the author’s notes on this book.

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4 thoughts on “Vanity and Vexation: A Novel of Pride and Prejudice by Kate Fenton

  1. I get a bit scared every time I pick up a book that is a retelling of a great story. I haven’t read many that live up to the great ones, but there has been one or two. I don’t know, if I’ll add this one to my tbr list, which is getting ridiculous, but I’ll keep it in mind. Thanks for sharing the review and for your kind (pouting) words on Please Make Me Shine 😉 You are the best!

  2. Pingback: Jane Austen Reviews » Blog Archive » Vanity and Vexation – Kate Fenton

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