Perfect Happiness
by Rachel Billington
Paperback 378 pages (June 1999) 
Hodder & Stoughton; ISBN: 0340675136
Audio Cassette unabridged edition (August 1997) 
Sterling Audio Books; ISBN: 0745168981
Paperback - 378 pages (17 April, 1997) 
Sceptre; ISBN: 0340675136
Audio Cassette (May 1997) 
Sterling Audio, US; ISBN: 0745168981 

        Posted by Kali Pappas, 1996
Recently, I read Billington's Perfect Happiness, the most recent and supposed best of the Emma sequels to date. I believe I could have liked it less only if it were the sacreligious Emma Tennant sequel.

Okay, I hated the treatment of Frank (the peanut gallery yawns and says, "Right, Kali, sure...")...she made him out to be some ineffectual, psycho-lunatic rather than the capable (the man sure can fix a pair of spectacles!), if flaky and selfish, character of Austen's creation. Billington makes John into a greedy, uninsightful apparition, and confines Mr. Knightley, for the most part, to functional muteness, simple insipidity, and intellectual ignorance. Sick-and-wrong!

I disliked her new characters and their influence on Emma (which, thank God, doesn't last), and thought some of her metaphors ridiculous (one involving Mr. Elton and a cough drop pops into my mind). While I did like her general development of Emma's character, especially re: views on children, learning, etc., it seemed that most other characters and general plot continuity (esp. re: Frank) suffered.

Mr. Knightley and Emma spend much of the story as ships passing in the night, which bugs generally, not to mention the fact that it reminds me of the dodge-and-thrust moves Alexandra Ripley puts Rhett and Scarlett through in her Scarlett sequel to GWTW. In general, I thought that Billington's and Ripley's sequels had parallel faults (are these common traits, perhaps, the ingredients of all unsuccessful sequels?) - everything goes down hill when Mammy dies and Scarlett puts off for Ireland, and when Jane croaks and Emma trots off to London. Change of scene and society, while it may make for explosive new possiblities in plot development, really screws with the authenticity of the mood.

        Review by Lori Schadler,  16 January 1997
Recently, I ordered a copy of "Perfect Happiness" from British Books (as it is virtually impossible to obtain here in the U.S.).  I had heard rumors that is was an unfitting sequel, however I wanted to judge for myself.

The book was a wonderful read, in so far as 180+ year old sequels can be.  First, I wish to say that I did not expect the style to be similar to that of Ms. Austen's -- so I think that may be why I was able to enjoy it more.

The character's were true to form, although many were dissatisfied with the new rendition of Frank Churchill, who falls into a temporary state of madness after the death of his beloved Jane. Frank is a bit off the wall here, but I thought it appropriate for the circumstances.  Later in the novel, he becomes more like his old self.  And, in one of the best scenes in the book literally throws himself at Mrs. Knightley, to the (as you can imagine) dissatisfaction of Mr. Knightley!

Yes, Emma and Knightley do the dance of discontented married folks -- always wrong about what the other is thinking, but never discussing it openly until the end of the book.  I may be wrong, but  I enjoyed this as well.  After all, the joy that comes from the discovery is why we read such things in the first place!

New characters are introduced and are probably the thing I like least in this book.  They seem quite useless to me.  They never really have an impact on the main story.  It almost seems as if Lady Billington just felt she must have her own voice in the story... in fact at one point she mentions a Mrs.  Billington!

The character's are stretched to new limits, they try new things, and yet they are the same people we have come to love from Jane Austen's "Emma."  After repeated goading by a belligerent Frank, Mr. Knightley even SINGS at the pianoforte!  It does seem un-natural, but then... I would have been disappointed had the characters performed exactly the same as they had in the first book.  I wanted them to change and grow -- how boring it would have been had things remained exactly the same!

These characters have much more passion that those of Jane Austen, and that is not surprising. Everyone knows that Jane's characters lacked that particular emotion in many ways.  Thankfully, the subject of sex is never really referred to, however the bedroom does get used for "talking of love all through the night."  And frankly, I enjoyed that thoroughly.

It was not Jane Austen's "Emma," but it was definitely the best of the lot that has been produced. Lady Billington is not a prize winning author, but I was contented to learn someone else's opinion of the future of Mr. & Mrs. Knightley. 

        Posted by Lori on June 16, 1997 at 11:28:16:
Who here has read the Rachel Billington "Emma" sequel, "Perfect Happiness"? I would love to discuss it, as I have just finished reading it myself.

I must say, it is my favorite of the lot by far!

        Posted by Lori on June 17, 1997 at 21:50:22:

I read her review [Kali's] and with all respect intended... I completely disagreed with her. While it is definitely not the quality of Jane Austen, it is certainly the best "Emma" sequel/etc. to date. (I have read the others).  It differs in that the characters have more passion than Jane originally intended. And yes, Frank is made out to be a bit of a psychopath.. but I kinda liked that twist. My advice. Read it for yourself and decide.  Don't take either of us on our word, because everyone is different!

        Posted by Cassandra on June 18, 1997 at 18:51:43:
Lori-I don't know if any Austen sequel can be labeled "best", maybe lesser of evils. And I completely disagree about Billington bringing passion to the Knightley/Emma relationship.  There is plenty of passion in JA, albeit between the lines.  The proposal scene in particular: "Never had the exquisite sight, smell, sensation of nature, tranquil, warm, and brilliant after a storm, been more attractive to her".  One of the things I disliked most about Perfect Happiness was the presentation of the Knightley marriage.  In the beginning, Emma is described as if she were presiding over an old folks home.  Perfect Happiness is laughable at moments, depending on your mood, -over the top.

        Review by Lynn Lamy,  3 February 1998
I found myself, by a quarter of the way through this book, wanting to smack Mrs. Emma Knightley. I found it very hard to believe that the young woman who had not feared going against Mr. Knightley's wishes and had been seriously ashamed when her actions were proved wrong could not see her way clear to admit to the same man, who had now become her husband, that she was feeling lonely and needed more attention from him.  I also found it difficult to believe that Mr. Knightley, who had always told Emma just exactly how she was misbehaving or making errors in judgment could not tell his wife that he was worried about her.   Because this is the whole premise of this Emma sequel, it did not bode well for my opinions of the book's merits. Emma is too whiny, several times she is called Miss Woodhouse, and Harriet Martin is repeatedly called Harriet Wilson instead of Harriet Smith.  I didn't like the premise for getting Emma to London, nor did I care much for the friends she made there.  Jane Austen's Frank Churchill is self-centered and a little sneaky, but Rachel Billington's Frank Churchill is a miserable excuse for a man, and a felon at that. I felt bad when poor Mrs. Bates died, I thought it was a nice choice having Miss Bates come to stay at Hartfield with Mr. Woodhouse while Emma is in London and running the house quite well.  I liked that Harriet Martin got a legacy from her father, whoever he was, and added on a dining room, had a nice little baby, and seemed very happy.

The book is not entirely without merit, but I found myself spending the majority of my reading time waiting for the story to get better.  It was longer than many of the other sequels I've read, and as one criticism of the sequels is that they are too ambitious in story considering their length, I thought the length of this particular one might allow a little more story development.   In this case, it seemed to have less story development in more length.

If you come across this book in your travels, give it a try, and know that you are not alone if you feel like giving Mrs. Knightley a swift kick in the pants!

        Review by Jennie Cameron,  1 April 1998
I think this book has to be read just for a laugh.  I admit it's not great, but not too badly written all the same.  I disliked her added characters, and the demise of John Knightly.  While I also disliked her development of Frank Churchill, it allowed for what I feel was the book's highlight - where Knightley throws him over the balcony!  Fabulous stuff!  Hardly appropriate behaviour, but great all the same.  Like all sequels written by someone other than the author, it is just another person's idea of what happened, and as such it was an interesting read.

         Written by Liz RM on Sat, 19 Jun 1999 19:26:31 PDT
I read this and I thought that generally, the actual writing was good - there were some areas which were very powerful (Mr Knightley, the landowner, magistrate never lied - when he throws Churchill over the wall!).   However, I did not think, as a sequel, it was very good.

       Written by Olivia Ann on Sunday, January 31, 1999, at 4:00 p.m.
Jane Fairfax was good - the best one she [Joan Aiken] did. 
        Review by Aarti, August 12, 1999
On a scale of 1-10, I would give it a 5 or 6.  I really disliked the way that Emma was portrayed in it.  For most of it, (until pretty much the last page) she was said to be mean and spiteful and fake.  Jane's dislike for her is clear, and she comes off as being an angel.  Also, in Emma, I never got the impression that Jane was interested in Mr. Knightley, but in this story, she was.  The book DID help me see why all Emma and Frank Churchill's jokes about Jane hurt her so much, though.

         Written by Lizzie T. on 12/27/99
I read the book and enjoyed it, too. And it did make me go back and reread Emma to see the JF/FC story in a new light. I didn't like the way Emma was depicted in Jane Fairfax either. She was too unsympathetic. But I guess we're seeing her through the eyes of someone who doesn't like her. I did enjoy the part about Frank passing notes and small gifts to Jane. So sweet. 

          Written by Kate Marie
I also read 'Jane Fairfax' So far it has been the best sequel I have read.  I thought the book made 'Emma" much more interesting because it made it seem more reasonable that Frank Churchill would be engaged to Jane Fairfax. It also made his treatment toward Emma seem more logical. I enjoyed learning about Jane's and Emma's childhoods which explained their dislike of each other. Plus the book introduced the Campbells and Dixons who were interesting characters in their own rights. Of course I had to go re-read 'Emma' after reading this. It made me look at Jane Fairfax in a whole new way. 

        Posted by Katie, 27 December, 1999
...I have just finished reading Jane Fairfax by Joan Aiken (a companion novel to Emma). Has anyone else read it?

I must confess it totally renewed my interest in the Jane/Frank story, after I had watched E2 too       many times- which doesn't really give that part as much coverage. I thoroughly enjoyed it as a novel in itself. I thought it interesting that Aiken seems to think Jane extremely reluctant to enter into the secret engagement, also that Jane doesn't appear to really love Frank yet - I had always assumed that she must have!

And an even more striking thing, I thought, was that Aiken shows Jane really falling in love with Mr. Dixon and FC noticed it himself, and yet he still taunts her with talking about it with Emma very cruelly! I had always thought that FC had made the story up himself - and that FC and JF had both been well acquainted with Dixon, and he had helped them form the engagement! I did not think that Frank could be so  cruel for it to be true!

Emma herself doesn't appear quite right, I'm not sure what it is, but in the first part of the book (the more fictional part of their childhood, etc.) I thought her character did not seem quite correct with Emma. If anyone else has read this, I would be excessively delighted to hear another's opinion!

        Written by Lizzie T. on 12/27/99
I read the book and enjoyed it, too. And it did make me go back and reread Emma to see the JF/FC story in a new light.

I didn't like the way Emma was depicted in Jane Fairfax either. She was too unsympathetic. But I guess we're seeing her through the eyes of someone who doesn't like her.

I did enjoy the part about Frank passing notes and small gifts to Jane. So sweet. 

        Review by Nadine Mendoza-Province, 12 Jan 2000
I found this a very enjoyable read--Jane is a great character to develop upon because not only is she very reserved and concealing much, but she's accomplished and bright.

This book does a very good job of detailing Jane's background and feelings in a very credible way, although Emma does suffer from it (she's pretty much a snob). The story of the Campbells and Dixons is also well explained, as is why Jane consents to the secret engagement.

        Written by Amy YS (1/21/2000
Mr. Knightly may like Jane Fairfax, but I'm not sure Austen did, and I'm quite certain that I don't. Now that you mention it, she really isn't likeable, is she? I liked her even less in the *sequel* (or alternative viewpoint rather) Jane Fairfax by J. Aiken (although for a sequel I thought it was one of the better ones.
        Review by LynneRobson, 11/17/04
I really thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and found it a lot better than Emma in Love which had been bought for me by my mother.  I liked the way that she wrote about  how Mr Knightley dealt with the problem of his brother losing his money and being thrown into prison protecting Isabel and bringing them to live back in Highbury. What I did not like was the bit about Frank Churchill trying to force himself on Emma at a party.  All in all I found it to be a very well written book and thoroughly enjoyable.