You should probably know that I am a total sucker for a Jane Austen retelling. Or just Jane Austen. Or books about Jane Austen. Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorite books of all time with Sense and Sensibility and Emma not too far behind. And I have the pleasure of saying that I like the film (or TV) adaptations of the books because I saw the films first and it inspired me to read the novels originally thereby getting around my mantra that “The Book is Always Better!”
I love the book Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld – a modern interpretation of P&P and I keep meaning to write about it on the blog. I blogged last year about The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner and I got a full set of Jane Austen novels for my birthday this year. My goal is to read/reread all of them in 2021. So when I heard about Ladies of the House by Lauren Edmondson, I got super excited! A modern retelling of S&S?! Set in DC?! I just knew I had to read it!
The Richardson family has been having a hard time. After the death of their patriarch, Senator Gregory Richardson – in a way that has caused a huge scandal in the DC political world, the women in his life: wife, Cricket and daughters, Daisy and Wallis – are left to deal with the aftermath. Most of their friends abandon them, they have to sell their Georgetown townhouse that’s been in their family for generations, and they deal with snide commentary from complete strangers every time they walk out their door. Daisy, the only Richardson to follow her father into politics, is having a hard time. She can’t seem to focus on her job as a chief of staff for another senator once the revelations about her father’s misdeeds are made public, she is trying desperately to keep her feelings for her best friend (newly returned to the DC area after years abroad) secret, and she worries about her sister Wallis’ new relationship with the son of a political rival who seems just too good to be true. If you’ve read Sense and Sensibility, you know how this ends.
I found this to be a very engaging read. I mean, I couldn’t put it down – to the point that I stayed up until 2am to finish it. I loved how the author reimagined how the Dashwood family would behave in the 21st century. And even though I knew how it was going to end, all I wanted to do was ensure that Daisy and Wallis got their happy endings. In fact, I really just loved Daisy. She is just as complex as Elinor Dashwood – she keeps a lot of her emotions inside her. Something that makes her an asset in politics but also something that she definitely needed to be in therapy for (Spoiler: she is in therapy.) She has trouble talking about her wants and needs and often times put others ahead of herself. All these thoughts and emotions start leaking out in healthy and unhealthy ways (the unhealthy ones are the funniest part – especially her cringe-worthy attempts at blackmail. Spoiler – it doesn’t go well.)
One of the most interesting parts was Daisy (and her family’s) relationship with her unrequited crush and BFF Atlas. So, let me talk him. <WARNING – S&S SPOILERS and some Ladies of the House spoilers> If you’ve read S&S, you know that Elinor (the older sister) pines for a man for most of the book, represses her feelings when it is discovered that he is engaged to marry someone else, and loses her cool when it turns out that they broke off their engagement and get together. If you haven’t read S&S, well, oops. Go read it now. It’s the slowest of slow burns and I am here for that.
I dug the fact that Atlas and Daisy were perfect for each other – they loved and accepted each others’ flaws – and that in the end they were able to get their act together and start a relationship. It was refreshing because it feels to me like in many romance novels and films, the heroine pines for a partner for most of the book that’s completely wrong for her, only she can’t see it. In the end of the book, she finally opens her eyes that the original partner is wrong for her but there’s the other amazing person (usually the one she’s been hanging out with platonically – although with loads of sexual tension) that she realizes is her true partner. I loved how the true friendship between Daisy and Atlas blossomed into something more. It was refreshing and I liked it. <Side note: Also loved how sweet Atlas is. Oh, Atlas.>
In true Jane Austen fashion, a lot of attention is paid to the familial relationship and I truly loved the sisterly bond between Daisy and Wallis. Even when they each did things that the other couldn’t understand or fathom (Why would you tell your best friend that you’re in love with him? Why would you date someone who’s family politics are diametrically opposite to yours?) they always supported and loved each other. It reminds me of the relationship I have with my siblings. No matter what, love comes first!
Finally, I loved all the references to Washington DC. DC is where I was born and raised, and I currently live in a DC suburb. I have many thoughts on how DC is portrayed in movies, TV shows and books, and one of my strongest criticisms is that DC get misrepresented ALL THE TIME. Many people only focus on certain parts of the city – usually the National Mall and the other seats of government: the White House and the Capitol. But, DC is more than a political backdrop. And while I adore these parts of DC, I loved that this book made DC into a real place – a place where people live, work, and go out. It was nice to read about those parts of the town interwoven with the government business. And many of my favorite places to go when I’m in town.
This is not a perfect book, though. It is Lauren Edmondson’s debut novel. There are some bumps and growing pains, but it was a solid start. I definitely recommend it.
Ladies of the House, expected release date: February 9, 2021
P.S. As an added bonus – take a glance at this clip from the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice miniseries from 1995. This scene is when Mr. Darcy returns home to Pemberley dives into a lake. He is less than formally attired. You’re welcome.