Title: Matters of the Heart
Author: Fiona Palmer
Genre: Fiction/Jane Austen retelling
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: 27th August 2019
Synopsis: A classic love story about manners, men and modern romance retold by bestselling Australian author, Fiona Palmer
Western Australia, 2019: The Bennets are a farming family struggling to make ends meet. Lizzy, passionate about working the land, is determined to save the farm. Spirited and independent, she has little patience for her mother’s focus on finding a suitable man for each of her five daughters.
When the dashing Charles Bingley, looking to expand his farm holdings, buys the neighbouring property of Netherfield Park, Mrs Bennet and the entire district of Coodardy are atwitter with gossip and speculation. Will he attend the local dance and is he single? These questions are soon answered when he and Lizzy’s sister Jane form an instant connection on the night. But it is Charlie’s best friend, farming magnate Will Darcy, who leaves a lasting impression when he slights Lizzy, setting her against him.
Can Lizzy and Will put judgements and pride aside to each see the other for who they really are? Or in an age where appearance and social media rule, will prejudice prevail?
Australia’s bestselling storyteller Fiona Palmer reimagines Jane Austen’s beloved classic tale of manners and marriage, transporting an enduring love story in this very twenty-first century novel about family, female empowerment and matters of the heart.
Over the years, many myths, fairy tales and classic works have been retold in many ways in books, for the stage, and for the screen. Jane Austen is no exception, and perhaps one of the stories that has been retold the most is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.Most retellings or adaptations of Pride and Prejudicetake place during the Regency period, but every so often, something new comes along, whether that is the time period or the country or culture the story is set in. Pride and Prejudice is one of those stories where you can take the general idea and characters, and it will translate extremely well into a myriad of settings with the necessary tweaks.
Matters of the Heart is one such retelling, and it is set in Australia in 2019. In Coodardy, Western Australia, Longbourn is a struggling farm. Lizzy Bennet returns home from an early morning walk with her dog, Pippa, to hear the gossip about Charlie Bingley, who has bought the neighbouring farm, Netherfield. Lizzy’s mother, Margaret, is determined to meet Charlie, a very eligible bachelor that Kitty and Lydia know more about than Lizzy as a match for Jane. From here, Matters of the Heartfollows the basic premise of Pride and Prejudice, where the romance is a result of the arguing over manners and expectations.
Mrs Bennet – Margaret – still wants her daughters, especially Jane and Lizzy – to make a good match in this one, yet she is also a woman who has a complex role as well, who encourages her daughters’ passions, but much like the Bennet matriarch of the original, is overly concerned about money and how people see her, and unfortunately, as in the original, the way Mrs Bennet acts and speaks starts to impact how the Bingleys and Will Darcy start to see and understand Jane and Lizzy as being just like their mother, whilst Lizzy judges Will because he is reserved and seemingly cold – until she sees him come to life on the farm and hears him talk about his sister.
Not only did this retelling and the original have a touch of romance in it, but the main premise is the idea of manners and what happens when we prejudge people based on minimal interaction or gossip. Also, many of the events are similar, just with a twenty-first century flavour, and a uniquely Australian flavour that makes it exciting and enjoyable to read. It also deals with modern ideas of the roles of men and women in a country town, and preconceived notions of who makes a good farmer or not, and all the surprises along the way that make the story ebb and flow to the pattern and timeline of the original Pride and Prejudice. Placed in the twenty-first century, the climax happens quite differently, and is effectively done so that it works within the original base narrative and the new setting.
Like Jane Austen’s original characters, these ones are flawed and complex, and not entirely perfect, though some seem to think they are. Lizzy and Jane are my favourites, because they are true to their modern selves, but also their origins from the 1800s. As the main focus of the novel, they get the most attention with sisters Mary, Kitty and Lydia popping in and out as they are needed in the story. It has a bit of everything – humour, romance and most importantly, the strength of women and their ability to stand on their own two feet, even in the face of people thinking they are unable to do certain things – old prejudices that in some areas have not gone away.
Overall, this was a very interesting take on an older story, and one that I would recommend it to fans of Fiona Palmer, and fans of Jane Austen.