The Third Sister
How well you enjoy this read is largely dependent on how you shop. Do you buy the brand names or the cheaper store brands? Do you try to duplicate the gourmet recipes of cooking shows using similar ingredients, like dry basil instead of fresh? If you do, you’ll find this an amazing story, just the one we all wanted Jane Austen to write for us. If you don’t, it is still a decent read, but the inevitable comparison lurks like submerged crocodiles behind every page you turn.
Margaret Dashwood is the younger sister of Elinor and Marianne, the heroines of Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility. Like her sisters, Margaret walks down a troubled path to love and marriage. Having no dowry or glorious connections, Margaret has few pretensions about her marriageability, yet finds herself courted by two very different suitors. One is the dashing Lieutenant William du Plessy, whose open and engaging manner attracts Margaret almost against her will. The other is reliable but staid George Osborne, a cousin of her in-laws. As Margaret tries to both understand her own heart and conform to the conventions of the period, we are reintroduced to all our old acquaintances from Sense & Sensibility. Eventually, love finds a way, and everyone receives his or her just desserts.
Margaret is described as being both sensible and passionate, and tends to like witty conversations, as evidenced by her friendship with Lady Clara. Her suitors are shown in less personal detail, putting more stress on the interaction and conversation between the main characters than on internal development.
Some readers may find the language in The Third Sister cumbersome. It is written in the general style of Jane Austen, and is separated from modern prose by a gulf of 200 years. On the one hand, this contributes to making the book closer to its prequel. On the other hand, it might deter the reader just dying to know what happened after the end of the movie adaptation who is looking for romance.
When discussing the plot of The Third Sister it is difficult to avoid comparison to Sense & Sensibility. Much of the tension of the latter springs from the radically different temper of the two Dashwood sisters. Their polarity creates the force field that moves the story forward. With just Margaret’s love life in focus, the tension level drops noticeably. Margaret’s final choice becomes a comment on Marianne’s fate, the tragic implications of which are apparent in the novel, but quickly glossed over in the movie adaptation. Ms. Barrett has used her artistic license on several points to change the personality of reoccurring characters. The most notable case is the transformation of Colonel Brandon. This is my main quibble with this book, as I tend to be an accuracy freak. However, I do concede that these changes were integral and necessary to the plot of the book.
As regards the setting, it is obvious that Sense & Sensibility is (was) a contemporary novel, having been penned during the time period in which it takes place, whereas The Third Sister is a “historical” novel, for all they are set in the same time period. This book feels less secure about what the Regency period was truly like, than does its prequel. The Third Sister is a simple romantic story with a highly moral ending, and while there are successful attempts at humor, it does not quite achieve the loving acidity of Austen’s wit.
I liked The Third Sister well enough, but the thin plot and the inescapable comparisons to the original keep me from issuing a general recommendation. If you are unfamiliar with Sense & Sensibility either as a book or film, this book is not worth the bother. If you loved the book, regardless of what you thought of the movie, this book is nice, but a long way from the original. I fall into this category, and my familiarity with the works of Jane Austen weighs heavily against copycats. However, if you loved the movie and haven’t read the prequel, you’re likely to enjoy The Third Sister.