I would argue that in a way, all literature is fan fiction. A person does not write a book in a vacuum. Aspiring novelists come from an army of dedicated readers, who all have their favourite genres and authors. And I imagine that many are driven by a wish to, on some level, respond. However, some books are more obviously based on particular authors or particular works. I am myself an ardent admirer of Jane Austen, as any reader of this blog will know, and some of my favourite reads are fan fiction related to her, like Reginald Hill´s "Pictures of Perfection", a Dalziel&Pascoe-mystery, where he uses Austen´s guidelines and advice to write a book where no crime is committed and where the deserving all get married in the end. And he even uses whole chunks of dialogue borrowed from Austen and casts the gay, very ugly, Sgt Wield as his own version of Elisabeth Bennett. I love that.
I read it in Swedish ("När döden kom till Pemberley"), and the translator is reputable, but in one or two places I felt like perhaps she had misunderstood some archaic turn of phrase. I could be wrong though, without the original text to compare. I do prefer to read English books in English. When I don´t, I tend to translate the dialogue in my head, particularly when it´s set in an environment that I associate strongly with particular types of language. This is a tiresome way to read.
James has been very respectful to Austen. Unlike Hill, who takes Austen´s style and stories and runs away with them, putting his own spin on it, James stays firmly within the boundries of "Pride & Prejudice". And even though she writes what is technically a who-done-it, a murder mystery, and sets it six years later, it´s more or less a repeat of P&P. It reminds me of all those Star Wars comics I read in the 80´s, with writers trying to come up with stories that didn´t take the characters anywhere, that didn´t allow them to develop. Here, the characters spend a lot of time reiterating what happened in P&P. And the bad guys still make all the trouble, the good guys are still paying for it - actually, they are all competing with Jane Bennett for the prize Most Meek Character in fiction, ever. James never manages to go outside Austen´s work, doesn´t pull it a single inch forward. Or sideways, or anywhere.
Mr and Mrs Darcy keep talking to each other "mildly", touching each other "mildly", and giving each other "mild" looks. This is perhaps why no one should write a sequel to "happy ever after", unless they are willing to disregard the original author´s intentions. Like Hill did when he turned Emma Woodhouse/Knightley into a murderess in the short story "Poor Emma" in the collection "There are no ghosts in the Soviet Union" (which I highly recommend). Not that I think Jane Austen imagined the Darcy marriage would evolve quite like this. Elisabeth has lost all her wit, Darcy all his confidence and experience. If James longed to prove herself inferior to another author, she certainly has succeded. Or perhaps she has lost it; this novel was published in her 91st year!
And you know, whatever I might think of the book, just being alive at that age is an achievement! Also, she dedicates the book to her loyal secretary of 35 years, and having personally helped my mother-in-law write her memoir, I know how much work a secretary does. I do think people doing this kind of work full-time all deserve to have books dedicated to them!
If you like P D James, perhaps you will not be disappointed. If you like Austen, you certainly will.