Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Review: Perfect Happiness

Sequels have always made me sad. I've no problems with the kind of sequels that are planned from the beginning, that follow a story with loose ends to resolve. My problem is with books following the happily ever after. The only way to write more is to say it's not quite happily ever after yet. And it's worse when it's the sequel to a book I love as much as I love Emma.

Perfect Happiness, by Rachel Billington, is one such sequel. Also known as Emma and Knightley, it is sort of stuck with causing them a little bit of angst before the end. Much as I read a sequel because I want to read more about Emma and Knightley, the approach in Old Friends and New Fancies is perhaps more cheerful--cause the side characters angst and trouble, leave our heroes to their happiness. But it ends well, which is maybe all that matters.

Most of the way through this book I was exclaiming over the silliness of it. Much as I don't want to spoil anything, I have to give you a taste: Jane Fairfax dead in childbirth, Frank Churchill run away and increasingly disreputable, John Knightley bankrupt and in jail, Emma going to London to help Isabella through her pregnancy, a discussion of women's rights. Some of that might have served well enough; it's natural for a sequel to broaden its view a little. I like the idea of Emma reading Vindication of the Rights of Women. It's not that any of this was silly on its own terms, and if I forgot Emma for a while it was all perfectly reasonable. But the book had a tone closer to Bronte than Austen, and Emma and Knightley went through a lot of misunderstandings that I would hope they'd got past already. Let's just say, this is not how I'd have written a sequel.

Despite this, the resolution of the book was extremely satisfactory, even if I did want to beat everybody over the head for all the stupid things they'd been believing of the others. Perfect Happiness held my attention extremely well, and if it was sometimes far-fetched it was, at least, never dull.

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