REVIEW: The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet

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Origin: Waterstones, Glasgow Sauchiehall Street, (23 September 2014)

Dates read: 23-24 September 2014

Let two things be known.  First, that I’m a massive Jane Austen fan.  Second, that I’m a sucker for modern updates of classic literature or drama.  Thus, Clueless, 10 Things I Hate About You, She’s the Man? Totally my thing.  So, obviously The Lizzie Bennet diaries were going to be totally up my street.  Thankfully, I didn’t discover them until they’d almost finished.  That way, I got to binge on them to my heart’s content during my final exams for my undergraduate degree.  They were definitely a great way to take my mind off things when I was feeling just a little stressed out.

So, it was pretty natural that I would love this book.  And I did.  It directly follows the plot of both Pride and Prejudice and the Lizzie Bennet Diaries videos, the premise being that this diary is a supplementary document for Lizzie to submit as part of her thesis to flesh out the gaps between her own private life and the private-public version of herself that she presents in her videos. It’s a really interesting idea, and I found myself being totally immersed in this world, to the point that I almost couldn’t remember what had happened in which version!

The format obviously has a few problems.  While many of the entries offer more detail on things we saw in the videos (and some deal with things we didn’t see, more of which in a second) some are very, very close to being exact rehashes of what happened on screen.  And two of the entries – at two pivotal points in the story! – are transcripts from the video.  This just feels lazy. I also occasionally felt the voice strayed away from something that would be natural to write in your private diary into directly aping Lizzie’s (and other characters’) voices from the videos.  Few people write the way they speak.  I can accept this more in an ordinary novel; for example, many thought the voices of Hazel and Gus were unnatural in The Fault in our Stars, but I saw it more as an idealised version of how we think we sound as teenagers, as opposed to something that was supposed to directly mirror reality.  However, in this diary, I found that sometimes Lizzie could have done with having a looser, more natural voice, as that’s how one tends to write in such a personal account.

However, reading this was more than worth it for all the extras and bonuses that the writers through our way. Chief among these was the choice to give a few extra details about Jane and Bing’s relationship and the detailing of the day out in San Francisco.  The diary did have the unfortunate side effect of making me like Lydia less rather than more but I guess I’m just never gonna love her.  I get that it’s from Lizzie’s often biased perspective, but I don’t like how her irresponsible behaviour in this iteration gets turned round into being everyone else’s fault but hers.  Maybe that’s just my perspective getting in the way, though.  There are some genuinely sweet moments in this books between all the characters.

I’d recommend this to anyone who liked the Youtube show, but I don’t know if it would necessarily work outwith that.  I think it would, but I think the Youtube show is ideally viewed first.  How do you know if you’ll like the Youtube series?  If you like “quirky”, modern takes on classic literature that aren’t too serious, and are relatively faithful to the source material (but aren’t too anal about exact detail-matching) then I would definitely recommend it.  Also, it certainly is light-years beyond the vast majority of the Jane Austen “sequels” and other such stuff that have been written.

 Out of ten: SEVEN!

Recommended for fans of: Anna and the French Kiss – Stephanie Perkins, The Boyfriend List – E. Lockhart, (obviously)  anything by Jane Austen, but especially if you liked the update of Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope for the Jane Austen Project.

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