Source/Format: An eARC was provided by the publisher through Edelweiss (thank you!)
Expected publication date: June 24, 2014 (next week!)
A modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice based on the Emmy Award-winning phenomenon, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.
There is a great deal that goes into making a video blog. Lizzie Bennet should know, having become a YouTube sensation over the course of her year-long video diary project. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries chronicled Lizzie’s life as a twenty-four-year-old grad student, struggling under a mountain of student loans and living at home with her two sisters—beautiful Jane and reckless Lydia. What may have started as her grad student thesis grew into so much more, as the videos came to inform and reflect her life and that of her sisters. When rich, handsome Bing Lee comes to town, along with his stuck-up friend William Darcy, things reallystart to get interesting for the Bennets—and for Lizzie’s viewers. Suddenly Lizzie—who always considered herself a fairly normal young woman—was a public figure. But not everything happened on-screen. Luckily for us, Lizzie kept a secret diary.
The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet provides more character introspection as only a book can, with revelatory details about the Bennet household, including Lizzie’s special relationship with her father, untold stories from Netherfield, Lizzie’s thoughts and fears about life after grad school and becoming an instant web celebrity.
Written by Bernie Su, the series’ executive producer, co-creator, head writer, and director, along with Kate Rorick, the novelist, TV writer, and consulting producer on the series, the novel features a journal-entry format and design, complementing the existing web series, while including plenty of fresh twists to delight fans and new readers alike. The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet expands on the phenomenon that captivated a generation and reimagines the Pride and Prejudice story like it’s never been done before.
This review contains mild spoilers for Pride & Prejudice and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries – if you haven’t read or watched either, please look out. I’m writing this as someone who assumes that most of my readers at least know the events of Pride & Prejudice. Read on!
When I started reading The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m a huge fan of the webseries, and count myself to be among the many, many fangirls of the series (yes, I’m a Seahorse). I expected there to be a lot of filling in of the gaps in terms of Lizzie’s relationship with her father. I expected it to be a novelization of the videos, in some ways. But somehow, what didn’t strike me was that The Secret Diary is, by virtue of being an adaptation of an adaptation, also just an adaptation of Pride & Prejudice itself (it’s hyper-mediation, if you will!).
I mean, I know I’m saying something pretty obvious. But I think it’s key to understanding why this book works – and why you don’t really need to watch the series to enjoy it. It’s a book that faithfully follows all of the plotlines and moments of Pride & Prejudice, while, like the webseries, poking fun at some of the more famous adaptations and things in P&P that do and don’t work for a 21st century audience.
And the thing is, it works really well. Bernie Su and Kate Rorick have crafted a piece that sits well on its own as a book retelling and a companion to the webseries – adding a lot to their version by making it epistolary. Obviously, it’s the same characters as the webseries – thus, Lizzie is a Mass Communications graduate student with “a mountain of student loans”, Jane is a young employee in the fashion industry, and Lydia is the overlooked party girl in community college. All of those things translated very well to the webseries, and I think they translate here, too.
As a fan of the series, I was worried that The Secret Diary would simply be a rehashing of the videos. I was so very, pleasantly wrong. The book stands alone, but it also adds so much depth and detail to what we already know from the webseries. I, in particular, had questions about how Lizzie and Lydia were getting along after a major event in Lydia’s life and I was rewarded with that. I was also very curious as to how Lizzie and Charlotte figured out what exactly happened when Jane and Bing are separated. A lot of the little details that are glossed over in the video diaries are given much more weight here. There was even a moment when I gasped because something was revealed in the diary that was never even hinted at in the videos.
Writing-wise, the book reads JUST. LIKE. LIZZIE. Maybe it’s because I’ve watched the LBD way too many times, but I could really hear Lizzie’s (actor Ashley Clements, who actually voices the audiobook) voice in my head. She’s just as sassy and dramatic as in the video diaries, although I really felt that her voice was a bit more contemplative in the book.
If I have one criticism, it’s that Lizzie, as she says in the videos, “forgets nothing.” The diary goes into immense detail on certain things, such as her meeting with Catherine de Bourgh – so much so that it felt a touch unrealistic. It’s a little unbelievable that Lizzie has that much time and energy to devote to such strict documentation. Her excuse in the book is that the diary is a part of her thesis – allowing her thesis advisor to see both what is shown onscreen and what she keeps hidden from the cameras. It’s an excuse that works, but as a reader, it’s a little hard to swallow.
That said, I thoroughly enjoyed The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet. The amount of detail suited me just fine, as did seeing the deeper relationships between Lizzie, her family, and her friends. I never thought the webseries was missing anything, but the book gave The Lizzie Bennet Diaries so much added dimension that the two together felt like a complete package after reading.
Lizzie and Her Father: In the original P&P, Lizzy and her father have a great, intellectual relationship that’s so cute and wonderful. I’m so happy to say that The Secret Diary really draws that out and gives Mr. Bennet so much more of a role than in the videos. I don’t want to say much more than that, but there’s a scene with them in the book that I totally squeed at.
The Final Word:
I have no doubt that fans of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries will eat this book up like candy no matter what, but it truly does deserve to be praised. Bernie Su and Kate Rorick have created a fun adaptation of both the source material and the webseries, with gems for fans new and old. Even though the story was very familiar, I still felt the same aching hope at the love stories and friendships that I did in the webseries. I’ll definitely be buying the audiobook when it comes out so that I can hear Lizzie herself telling me about her life, one more time, in a brand-new way.
Are you interested in reading THE SECRET DIARY OF LIZZIE BENNET? Have you watched The Lizzie Bennet Diaries? Are you a Pride & Prejudice fan? How do you feel about adaptations (of adaptations of adaptations…)? Sound off in the comments!