It might be cliché for someone who grew up obsessed with love stories to say she loves Jane Austen, but hey, I’m allowed to contain multitudes, right?
As I’ve reread the books over the years, I’ve come to love Austen’s subtle humor and social commentary as much (if not more) than the comfortable knowledge that all will end well. It then comes as no surprise that I was super excited to learn about The Austen Project, a series of modern Jane Austen retellings. So far, we’ve been given Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility revamps. Since my hold on Sense and Sensibility is still pending, I’ll be talking about the other three Austen Project books.
Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid
Confession: Northanger Abbey is actually my favorite Austen novel. Some people (specifically people in my undergraduate Jane Austen course) consider it her least polished work, but as a satire lover, I am all about a more overtly funny Jane. Therefore, I had high hopes for this modern retelling, and I was not disappointed!
Our “heroine” Cat’s obsession with gothic novels translates beautifully into a Twilight-inspired vampire obsession. Bella Thorpe’s vapid flirtatiousness comes across beautifully in her txt speak, and it’s super fun to see Cat and Ellie Tilney desperate for wifi in the internet-free zone of the Abbey.
One downside is that Henry Tilney comes across a bit more creepy in this book than the original, which led to me falling in love with him a bit less. Still, I absolutely ate this one up (vampire pun 100% intended).
Verdict: Buy this book and read it whenever you need to laugh about what it is to be a teenage girl with an active imagination.
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
This book is set in my beloved hometown of Cincinnati, which made reading it both a magical and distracting experience because places I go on a regular basis were fixtures in the story. Darcy eating at Skyline is basically my new idea of sexy.
Some aspects of this interpretation perplexed me a bit, however. I’m not sure I get why the reality show aspect was thrown in, at least not how it ends up being handled. Do Mrs. Bennet and her sillier daughters seem like they belong on a reality show? Sure. But Bingley? Less so, I think.
I think my ability to love this book was largely injured by my love for The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, a YouTube modernization of Pride and Prejudice that just completely rocks my socks. I kept wanting this book to be like that, but of course it wasn’t, because it wasn’t intended to be.
I enjoyed this book less than I wanted to and feel a bit sheepish about the dollars I dropped on the brand new hardcover. I justify it because it’s not often I get to adorn my shelves with a book set in Cincinnati. Still, my final verdict for you all is: Borrow this book first to make sure it’s your jam.
Emma: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith
The hardcover edition is one of those books that is just so pretty in person. I spent a lot of time petting it awkwardly in bookstores before I finally checked it out as an ebook from the library. I’ll preface my opinions on this one with the fact that I always inevitably forget how much I hate Emma, the book and the person. I was poised to like this book least, but there you have it. Let me talk a bit about why.
This book just didn’t seem to handle the translation to modern day in a way that worked for me. First, a lot of the dialogue seemed stilted and unrealistic. I also kept tilting my head to the side wondering if the choices made really fit with a modern retelling. Additionally, a lot of interesting ideas were introduced, but didn’t really get played out fully, causing the book to have a certain flat fidelity to the original that made it fall short of its potential. I think I’d have liked the book a lot better if its author had been just a bit braver about shaking up the old story and giving it a different life.
Verdict: Bypass this book, especially if the original Emma makes you want to hit things. Supplementary unsolicited advice: try to remember the fact that Emma makes you want to hit things.