Lynn Shepard’s MURDER AT MANSFIELD PARK

This reworking of Jane Austen’s MANSFIELD PARK starts with the basic premise of the original story, but reworks the plot-lines. Along the way Jane Austen’s characters metamorphose in such a way that they are barely recognizable.

The biggest change is with Fanny Price, the young cousin living at Sir Thomas Bertram’s house. In the original novel, poor Fanny is overlooked by everyone except by her cousin Edmund, who is kind to her. Needless to say, she falls for him. Unfortunately, Edmund is more interested in sophisticated Mary Crawford from the city.

When I first picked up MANSFIELD PARK as an adolescent, I quickly threw it down, because I couldn’t get on with the character of Fanny. I found her too insipid, too spineless, and too dreary. Such a contrast to Elizabeth Bennet! Later on, after seeing a good movie version of it, I was able to read and enjoy it.

In Lynn Shepard’s treatment, Fanny’s sweetness is portrayed as skin deep, concealing the ruthlessness of someone accustomed to getting her own way, and taking more than her fair share.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this novel is Ms Shepard’s prose style, which is deliberately Austenesque, complete with 18-century spellings. This is occasionally spoiled by too many occasions when she TELLS the reader what to think, rather than letting the story unfold. It is very hard to strike a balance between situations when TELLS are absolutely necessary and situations when they are not. This is compounded by the fact that Jane Austen herself had a tendency to TELL the reader too many things, especially when she was moralizing. However, for anyone who enjoys Jane Austen’s MANSFIELD PARK, MURDER AT MANSFIELD PARK will be an enjoyable light read, with many amusing choices of plot and character to make a fan of Jane Austen chuckle. Four Stars.

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