Mary Bennet, the middle sister in Pride and Prejudice never really had much depth of character. She wasn't an insatiable flirt like Lydia and Kitty nor of marrying age like Jane and Elizabeth. As a result, she floats through the story hardly noticed in Austen's extremely popular novel. This gives McCullough a lot of wiggle room to imagine a life for Mary well into spinsterhood.
Mary reaches her independence in her late 30's well after the marriages of all her other sisters and only due to the passing of her mother, the nosy Mrs. Bennet. Defying proper behavior of a single woman, Mary decides to explore the plight of the poor in England first-hand in order to write a book. She travels alone via transport used mainly by a poorer class of people which paves the way for all kinds of drama and intrigue.
In true McCullough fashion we're brought into a world where nobody is really happy to start with, yet they're all doing what need to be done to stay alive and take care of each other. While things improve for mostly everyone by the end the road isn't easy. Not everyone makes it. Full of lots of intense moments and heightened situations, Miss Mary Bennet's path to independence is an exciting story. The tone feels like a mix between a romance novel of today (without the sex) and a Gothic novel from the Victorian Era (without the supernatural element).
This was an interesting read although Mary doesn't feature as prevalently as I had thought before opening up the book. She's hardly a player until the last quarter of the novel. The narrative is more about the entire Bennet family and the people who have been pulled into their lives. I'd list this book as a quick, action-packed read good for a plane trip or somewhere where you have to sit and wait for a long time. If you really want to sample McCullough's work though and haven't read The Thorn Birds yet run out and get that today!