Phi Alpha Pi by Sara Marks – Book Review

Marks, S - Phi Alpha PiI received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

🌟🌟 .75

I did enjoy the book, I just felt like it could have been executed better.

The premise of this book is a Pride and Prejudice retelling in a modern American setting of sororities and fraternities. I adore Pride and Prejudice, it is one of my all-time favourite novels so when I first read the synopsis I was intrigued for several reasons. Firstly, P&P is very quintessentially British as are the characters, and thought seeing American interpretations would be interesting and (due to limited knowledge in the area and a few American movies) my idea of sororities centres a great deal around debutantes and socialites and I actually thought to apply the P&P story to that sounded all kinds of awesome and original.

Well, my idea was a little off but what I got was pretty awesome and original too! The bare bones of the original story are present and fleshed out with a great summer, feel-good romance that most P&P fans (with an open mind) can enjoy. I liked how Lizbeth was translated to modern day, complete with feminist bad-assery, and how other key characters from the original story do too – Wickham a fraudster and identity thief? Inspired! Darcy, explained as an introvert with social anxiety? So clever!

There is enough of the original in there to make it as un-put-downable as the original for me but, since it is a retelling I have to compare it to the original.

Whilst I have nothing against adaption for the purpose of modernisation there are almost always some aspects of classics that are important to maintain unless they’re changed in a specific way. I also have a thing about retellings containing the original material as a piece of media in the book, as in, in this book Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is a book that exists. This creates a weird irony from the outset of any novel as the events mirror the book which is either addressed by a) referring to it constantly which is annoying and strange or b) mentioning it once and then inexplicably never again. Phi Alpha Pi uses the latter which is the lesser of two evils but in all honestly I wish they just wouldn’t at all. And that’s not specific to this book, but for all classic retellings. Just leave it out. (admittedly, Austenland by Shannon Hale actually handles it surprisingly well but I’d say it’s an exception).

In Phi Alpha Pi the Bennett sisters aren’t really sisters (well, they’re sorority sisters) which would be fine except they all have their own additional families and siblings that I felt were unnecessary plot devices that could have been substituted by actual P&P characters. But I also felt that removing the blood bond also jeopardizes some of the actual plot points. Lydia’s life choices, for example, I don’t doubt sorority sisters are close but Lizbeth’s constant judgment and commentary of the other sisters’ actions especially Lydia’s just feels rude and like overstepping. Opinions like that are best asked for and when it’s your family those concerns are expected and you’re entitled to shove them in a person’s face. Just some gal you’ve known for a few years at school? Um, rude? What’s it to you? Imean, it wasn’t a huge deal but it’s similar with Dr Bennett (the Mr Bennett archetype). His advice and counsel means more as Lizzy’s father, not her teacher.

The second is Lizzy’s social standing. Lizzy’s stalwart and satirical resolve against a marriage based on financial advantage means that much more when she is set to inherit nothing because it means she is quite literally happy to choose to be placed at a disadvantage before she jeopardises her beliefs and marry for money. Making her wealthy takes something away from that, even if I suppose it accentuates she’s really choosing Darcy for love since she doesn’t need his money?

There’s the two pivotal scenes in Darcy and Lizzy’ relationship: the slight and the proposal. I found the flip in the severity of these two scenes very amusing – the slight is actually not very much of a slight at all. Barely even a passing comment – ‘Not my type’ and a general (and kind of accurate) comment on people who aren’t Lizzy is so not on par with ‘tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me’ and an unfounded assumption coupled with the belief his company is a gift. Where, by comparison, “You are an aggressive, unconnected nobody who holds everyone up to ridiculously high expectations and acts like you’re entitled to everyone’s respect.” – but please love me back, is pretty darn brutal. I actually found this quite funny – in fact, I may have said “Ooooooh, snap” out loud.

The writing style was actually pretty good but the one thing that really sticks out in my mind is Marks’ constant remarking on what people are wearing, to the point that I dedicated a highlighter colour to every time this happened in the exact same format/phrasing on my kindle. The grand total? 20 and it’s not a long book. Unless there was something symbolic about Darcy’s penchant for Chucks that I missed.

I liked it, it was a fun read but I’m not likely to read it again, to be honest. It was a fun way to relive P&P in a new way for a weekend but in terms of retellings/adaptions, it’s not the best but also not the worst.

Can anyone recommend a P&P retelling with the setting of debutantes by any chance? I need to read that book.

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