Monday, May 12, 2014

Northanger Abbey (Book Review)

Publication Information: Harper Collins, Hardcover, 2014
Genre: Fiction
Setting: 21st century Scotland
Plot:  Giddy teenager Cat Morland, a minister’s daughter, is invited to accompany affluent and generous neighbors, the Allens, to Edinburgh for the Festival.  Homeschooled and naive, Cat has spent more time obsessing over Twilight than preparing for a career.  She longs for drama and adventure and finds both when she makes two friends: vivacious Isabella Thorpe and charming Henry Tilney, a young lawyer who teaches her how to dance.  She is fascinated by Henry and his sister Ellie, but is distracted from pursuing their acquaintance by the unexpected arrival of her brother James, who is involved with Isabella.  Thrown into the constant company of Isabella’s obnoxious brother John, Cat has difficulty extricating herself from his boorishness and possessive John tries to scare away the Tilneys.  As in the source, Cat is invited to visit the mysterious Northanger Abbey, and is welcomed by General Tilney, then unexpectedly sent home in disgrace, left to wonder if any of her new friends cares enough about her to follow her back to Dorset.  

Audience: This book is part of a project commissioned by Harper Collins in which six noted authors will recreate Austen’s work in contemporary settings.  Purists may object but I think casual fans of Austen and GeorgetteHeyer, as well as those who are reading/buying all the Austen imitations will enjoy it and appreciate some of the twists McDermid concocts.  It is still a comedy of manners to some extent, as well as a coming of age story, and the reader can't help but sympathize with Cat's growing pains.
What I liked: The original Northanger Abbey is a parody, and McDermid pokes fun at the craze for Twilight as Austen did with the gothic bestsellers of her day (there is one clever bit where John makes fun of a fantasy series Cat likes and she silences him by revealing the author contributed to a video game John plays).  Northanger Abbey is not one of my favorite Austens so in many ways I felt that McDermid’s reworking was an improvement on the original and I raced through it with great enjoyment. 

Yet it seems just as much as waste of McDermid’s talent as Joanna Trollope’s in Sense & Sensibility, as I observed recently (although it is also a way to expand one's audience).  McDermid’s writing is usually dark and angst-ridden; here, she is arch, and this book is memorable primarily because of its inspiration (although the characters are well done, particularly Isabella – everyone has just such a friend who seems charming until one realizes she never listens or cares about anything but herself). Of course, while I like McDermid’s crime novels, it was relaxing to read this and know no one was going to be tortured or raped!  In addition, the descriptions of Edinburgh were very appealing and my desire to visit is even stronger now: the Edinburgh Festival sounds like so much fun.

Source: I got this from the library, and despite my quibbles I look forward to reading other forthcoming books in this series.

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