#BookReview Charlotte by Helen Moffett @ZaffreBooks

9781785769108About the Book

Everybody thinks that Charlotte Lucas has no prospects. She is unmarried, plain, poor, and reaching a dangerous age.

When she stuns the neighbourhood by accepting the proposal of buffoonish clergyman Mr Collins, her best friend Lizzy Bennet is appalled by her decision. Yet this is the only way Charlotte knows how to provide for her future.

Her married life propels Charlotte into a new world: not only of duty and longed-for children, but secrets, grief, unexpected love and friendship, and a kind of freedom.

This powerful reimagining takes up where Austen left off, showing us a woman determined to carve a place for herself in the world. Charlotte offers a fresh, feminist addition to the post-Austen canon, beautifully imagined, and brimming with passion and intelligence.

Format: (Hardcover, 368 pages)              Publisher: Manilla Press
Publication date: 3rd September 2020 Genre: Historical fiction

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My Review

The Charlotte who emerges from the book is loyal, honest, intelligent, an attentive, loving mother and wife. Above all, she’s a pragmatist, her aim being ‘to secure a future free of anxiety and material want’ for herself and her children. The author provides the reader with a different picture of the relationship between Charlotte and Mr Collins than might be imagined from Pride and Prejudice. Although a marriage of convenience initially, there is mutual affection and, at times, even desire between the pair. Yes, really. Granted, Mr Collins remains his overly talkative self and pathetically grateful for every favour that comes his way from his patron, Lady Catherine, but there are some touching scenes in which he and Charlotte are brought together by grief.

The author has some fun imagining “what happened next” to the other Bennet sisters and expanding the role of some of the secondary characters from Pride and Prejudice, notably Anne de Bourgh, daughter of the formidable Lady Catherine. There are also literary allusions to spot such as a first meeting on a moonlit road, a female character with a fondness for wearing men’s clothes and a wet-shirted emergence from water.

An invented character, Austrian musician and piano tuner Jacob Rosenstein, acts as a vehicle for Charlotte to recount, in a series of flashbacks, scenes from Pride and Prejudice (seen from her point of view) as well as details of the early part of her marriage. He also acts as a welcome distraction from her grief over a family tragedy.

The book is written in elegant prose reminiscent of, but not slavishly copying, Jane Austen’s style. Much tea is consumed, health-giving country walks are taken and musical evenings are enjoyed.

A repeated theme of the book is the inferior status of women whether manifested through inheritance laws, social conventions or the constraints of marriage. It leads Charlotte to reflect on ‘the swinging unfairness of the lot that made her a woman’ making her ‘little better than a parcel to be lodged where first a father and then a husband decreed’. Having said this, Charlotte proves herself adept at subtle manipulation and the end of the book sees her influencing the turn of events.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of Manilla Press and Readers First.

In three words: Tender, assured, engaging

Try something similar: The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow or Longbourn by Jo Baker

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EQngv350_400x400About the Author

Helen Moffett is a South African writer, freelance editor, activist, and award-winning poet. She had a PhD on Pre-Raphaelite poetry and has authored or co-authored university textbooks, short story anthologies, non-fiction books on the environment, two poetry collections, and various academic projects. Charlotte is her first novel. (Photo credit: Twitter profile)

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