My Final Thoughts on “The Austen Project” by teachergirl73

GUEST POST – teachergirl73

It’s finally over. After three years and three novels, I can officially consider this experiment in fan fiction complete. What I have I learned about this experience? That if you are going to tackle a classic, especially a piece of work written by Jane Austen, you had better have an unparalleled understanding of the original work before you get started.

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Val McDermid’s re-interpretation of Northanger Abbey has been the most successful in my opinion. To read my views on Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope and Emma by Alexander McCall Smith, check out the links below to my previous posts on Penny Dreadful Book Reviews:


NASYNOPSIS – Cat Morland is ready to grow up. A homeschooled minister’s daughter in the quaint, sheltered Piddle Valley in Dorset, she loses herself in novels and is sure there is a glamorous adventure awaiting her beyond the valley’s narrow horizon. So imagine her delight when the Allens, neighbors and friends of her parents, invite her to attend the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh as their guest. With a sunny personality, tickets every night and a few key wardrobe additions courtesy of Susie Allen, Cat quickly begins to take Edinburgh by storm and is taken into the bosom of the Thorpe family, particularly by eldest daughter Bella. And then there’s the handsome Henry Tilney, an up-and-coming lawyer whose family home is the beautiful and forbidding Northanger Abbey. Cat is entranced by Henry and his charming sister Eleanor, but she can’t help wondering if everything about them is as perfect as it seems. Or has she just been reading too many novels?

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REVIEW

McDermid’s version of Northanger Abbey was quite enjoyable for the most part. She relocated the story from Bath to Edinburgh in August during the festival season, which was the perfect backdrop for the mystery and intrigue that Catherine Moreland, or Cat is searching for. McDermid did a great job of resettling Austen’s characters in the 21st century.  McDermid seems to have stayed fairly true to form, clearly establishing Cat’s naivety and lack of worldly experience with the polar opposite gold-digging, scheming Thorpe siblings and the oppressed Tilney children, trapped by an over-bearing, dictatorial father.

Northanger-Abbey-009Cat has led a very sheltered life, the daughter of a vicar and home-schooled by her mother, her only escape to adventure is through her love of gothic novels. Cat’s first real-life adventure away from home comes when she gets invited to join family friends, the Allens, on a trip to Edinburgh for the Festival. Edinburgh in August is hopping and Cat is in her glory as she gets to explore the Festival, the city and along the way, she meets some new friends. Cat encounters Bella Thorpe and her family, and the two girls become fast friends. Cat’s older brother James and Bella’s brother John decide to join the party in Edinburgh and Cat begins to see her older brother through the eyes of others as she discovers that James is already well-acquainted with the Thorpe family since he went to school with John, a character who is completely self-obsessed and who turns up everywhere that Cat goes. Bella sets her sights on capturing James’ heart, and John assumes that through his sheer force of will he can make Cat his own, despite the fact that Cat does not return his affection.

There is one person that Cat wishes were around more and that is Henry Tilney. She first meets Henry at a dance class, and from that moment on, Cat can’t get Henry out of her head. Cat also gets to meet Henry’s sister Ellie, who’s friendship she comes to appreciate as it not only provides Cat access to Henry, but Cat quickly realizes just how much they share in common. As Cat jumps between spending time with Bella, James and the every-increasingly annoying John, and the Tilney siblings, finds herself juggling new emotions along with her time as she tries to keep everyone happy.

As Cat becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the excessive flirtation between her soon to be sister-in-law and Freddie Tilney, the incorrigible player, she is given an opportunity  to further her own desires. Cat is invited to get away from the scene in Edinburgh by Ellie and Henry Tilney who invite her to come and stay at their family ancestral home Northanger Abbey. Cat jumps at the chance to spend more time with Henry, who she is becoming more and more infatuated with, and to spend time with Ellie, who’s friendship seems to be one that has greater staying power than the unpredictable Bella.

This is where the rebooted story begins to falter. Both Catherines, in this version and the original, have VERY over-active imaginations that create a lot of grief. Northanger Abbey, like Edinburgh, provides the perfect setting for a mystery, coupled with the very hushed up details of the Mrs. Tilney’s death years earlier, Cat’s imagination takes off. The Catherine of the original dreams up a murderous plot carried out by the Tilney children’s very domineering and controlling father. The Cat of the 21st century takes it to a whole new level, adding to her fantasy of possible murder that the Tilney family are really blood-sucking vampires. As a fan of supernatural fiction, this storyline thread just felt ridiculous. McDermid should have just stuck with the suspicious death plot and developed that more instead of trying to jump on a pop culture trend that is now long past over. It was so poorly tied into the story that I nearly gave up reading the novel a few times. The end of the story was also poorly managed, rushed and not believable at all.

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EligibleThe heart of my disappointment really and truly seems to be that Austen’s stories have been completely lost in an attempt to ride the wave of the 200th anniversary of the publication of her works. Most of the authors that were contracted to complete their re-imagining of Austen’s most popular works, are very successful in their own right. Theoretically this should have equaled a win-win, but in reality, I feel the entire project has missed its mark. There is one more book in the series, Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld, which is a re-interpretation of Pride and Prejudice, my favourite of all Austen’s works. I was really looking forward to this book, but after reading the description for it and some reviews I realized that I no longer have the stomach for the Austen Project and it’s somewhat nonsensical rewriting of Austen’s stories. My advice is if you are considering reading any of the Austen Project’s offerings, do so at your own risk. If you end up throwing books across the room or banging your head against a wall in complete and utter frustration, don’t say that I didn’t warn you!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

val_mcdermid_0Val McDermid is a No. 1 bestseller whose novels have been translated into more than thirty languages, and have sold over eleven million copies.

She has won many awards internationally, including the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year and the LA Times Book of the Year Award. She was inducted into the ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards Hall of Fame in 2009 and was the recipient of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger for 2010. In 2011 she received the Lambda Literary Foundation Pioneer Award.

She writes full time and divides her time between Cheshire and Edinburgh.

WEBSITE


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