Until a few weeks ago (mentioned in ElCicco’s great review of Eligible), I hadn’t heard of The Austen Project. The gist of the project is to take Jane Austen’s novels, choose current authors, and have them modernize the story. And now I’m obsessed with making may way through all of the books rewritten thus far…I’ve already read Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma, and am on the library list for both Eligible and Joanna Trollope’s Sense & Sensibility. But I was lucky enough to find a copy of Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey kicking around, and promptly tore into it.
The original NA isn’t my favorite Austen. I find Catherine a bit too ridiculous for my taste, and I don’t get why the Tilney’s are so taken with her innocence and gullibility. But I love the gothic feel of the story and the humor about the danger of reading novels.
In this version, Cat is a 17 year old from Dorset. Her dad is the local vicar and she and her brother and sisters have all been homeschooled, leaving her a bit innocent in the ways of the modern social world. Of course she Facebooks and Tweets, but she doesn’t watch TV or get out all that much. But Cat loves to read and is obsessed with vampire books like Twilight. She thinks they are simply beyond romantic. OK.
Cat’s wealthy neighbors invite her along to the Edinburgh fringe festival for a month. Mr. Allen is a talent scout for London’s West End, and his wife Susie gets bored with all of the culture, and just wants a friend to go shopping and gossiping with. Susie promptly runs into an old school friend of hers, Mrs. Thorpe, who happens to have a few young daughters in tow, including Bella, who quickly becomes Cat’s bestie.
Of course it turns out that there is more to Bella than Cat first realizes. Bella has a thing for Cat’s brother James (now annoying called Jamie), who is friends with Bella’s HORRID brother Johnny. When Johnny and Jamie come up to Edinburgh to woo the girls, I wanted to rip Johnny’s pages right out of the book and make him choke on them. I can’t think of a character I’ve ever despised more in any book. UGH.
Meanwhile, Cat has met the lovely Henry Tilney, and his sister Ellie. But every time Cat tries to get close to Henry, Johnny gets in the way with his rude behavior or a disgusting comment. And what’s the deal with their father, the imposing General Tilney?
We all know just how its going to play out, and for a while its fun to see how McDermid plans to get her characters there. I loved the setting of Edinburgh (I really do need to go there sometime) and the Scottish countryside sounded simply lovely.
What didn’t work for me was Cat’s innocence and stupidity. I get that she’s supposed to have a vivid imagination and that her obsession with her book choices might somehow sway her thought process.
To think that General Tilney was a vampire that was holding his supposedly dead wife captive as a blood vessel in a turret at Northanger Abbey?
NO. Just no. No.
Also, Cat is 17 and Henry is a lawyer. That age difference skewed me out quite a bit.
But it was still a fun read. Not as well done as Emma, but I enjoyed myself more than not. Looking forward to seeing how the rest of the project pans out.