By Rachel Billington
Emma and Mr. Knightley have been married for over a year, and living quietly in Hartfield with Mr. Woodhouse. The peaceful world of Highbury is shaken by the news that Jane Fairfax Churchill has died in childbirth, and Frank has gone missing, leaving their newborn child in the care of his father Mr. Weston. This sets off a chain reaction of events that leads to trouble in the Knightley family, Emma having to go to London, and a widening gap between husband and wife. As Emma struggles to maintain her family and her relationship with her husband, will she be able to solve the mystery of Frank Churchill’s strange behavior?
For being a book called “Perfect Happiness”, not too many people are happy in it. There seems to be a general tone that everyone is miserable and just hiding it well, which was disappointing. There are so few Emma sequels, hardly any really, and I was looking forward to more of the same – some town intrigue and some engagements and Emma trying to resist meddling. Instead I got a lot of unwanted angst.
There seem to be two major arcs in this story, which is, if you ask me, one too many. There’s the early storyline of Mr. John Knightley being ruined in business and having to have his brother come and bail him out. That storyline ties itself up nicely about 1/3 the way through and we don’t come back to it again. The second storyline, which takes up the larger portion of the book, is of Frank Churchill’s fall. These two stories aren’t interwoven together in any way, or really referred to in the other half of the book. It’s like the author had two different ideas about which way the story would go, and instead of picking one and sticking with it, she just decided to do one and then the other.
You know what I really hate? When characters are forced to learn the same lesson in the sequel that they learned in the original. In the original, Emma learns not to be so hung up on class and money, and to let people make their own choices. In this book she learns… not to be so hung up on class and money again. I doubt she would have forgotten the lesson she just had a year ago. She wasn’t permitted any character growth, but was reduced back to being a manipulative snob. Knightley, similarly, goes back to treating Emma like a child. Which is creepy when you consider that they’re married. I get that he’s a lot older than her, but can you please stop referring to it as his “brotherly affection”. It makes their romance, when there is any, feel weird and wrong.
Ah Emma and Mr. Knightley. Even though we leave them in the original with a perfect understanding of each other, as they have been friends for so long and understand each other’s ways, one year has made them completely forget how to talk to each other. There were so many problems in this book that could have been solved if Emma and Knightley would just talk to one another. Seriously, people, communicate with your spouse! Emma spends literally months of agony thinking that Knightley is involved with Harriet, even though a simple conversation would have solved the whole dilemma.
There are really on two original characters added to the story – the Tidmarshes. Besides having ridiculous names, Mrs. Tidmarsh and her stepson were very strange characters. I thought Mrs. Tidmarsh was going to be a replacement Mrs. Weston figure, since apparently having babies makes you dumb and unable to talk about anything except your babies. But then she sort of transformed into a Miss Crawford figure, and then into I do know what. I was a very strange character arc. I was happy Emma had a friend and confidante who was helping her get over her snobby class issues, but the whole thing with Frank Churchill was bizarre and unnecessary. It was a strange subplot shoved in at the very end, with no time for Emma to react to it or for the plot to advance in any way. Very strange choice.
This book could have benefitted from a really good editor. There were several name mix-ups that would have been easy to avoid, and which annoyed me to no end. First of all, her name is Harriet Martin, and before that she was Harriet Smith. What’s this with calling her Harried Wilson? Where did the “Wilson” come from? Mrs. Elton’s sister Mrs. Suckling suffered from a similar name schizophrenia. Is she Serena Suckling or Selina Suckling? She’s called both. These are dumb errors and lead me to believe that there was laziness in the printing of this book. No one bothered to read it through all the way to catch these small things. Also, people keep giving Emma a hard time about not having children yet, and I thought that subplot was going to go somewhere, that she was going to announce a pregnancy before the end of the book, but that subplot was completely dropped as well.
There were a few things I liked about the book. I enjoyed where the author took Miss. Bates’ character. At least she got some character development! And I enjoyed the general pacing of the book. Even though there were a few weird choices, it was never boring. It dragged a little in the bits with Isabella, because as I said before, women with babies can only think about their babies, right? But other than that it was interesting. For a book called “Perfect Happiness”, it could have used a bit more happiness and a little less angst.