I’ve talked about The Austen Project before when I reviewed Joanna Trollope’s version of Sense and Sensibility. While the original is certainly one of my favourite Austen books, the new version was mostly unbelievable and barely made sense in today’s world. I was hoping ALexander McCall Smith would do better on Emma, but I’m afraid that once again, I’ve been a bit disappointed.
Quick refresher of the plot: Emma lives at Hartfield in Surrey with her super anxious father Mr. Woodhouse and her governess Miss Taylor. What Emma likes best of all is organising everyone else’s life and meddling to her heart’s content. So once she’s “married off” her governess to their neighbour Mr. Weston, she casts her spell on yougn Harriet Smith, an orphan with no fortune. But her friends, especially George Knightley, do not appreciate Emma’s efforts…
Unlike the original, McCall SMith starts the book before Emma’s birth. This seems like an odd choice, because it burdens the reader with years of uninteresting facts that add little to nothing to the actual storyline. Honestly, Emma’s childhood could have been glossed over in a chapter.
Her affection for Frank Churchill has also been done away with. Instead, she’s just so busy with everyone else’s love life, that she dooesn’t even think about guys, and even occasionally wonders if she might be gay. Therefore, the love story with George Knightley appears out of nowhere. There are very few hints at their growing affection for each other, and so the moment when they finally get together is taken a bit out of thin air.
Once again I’m comparing this with Juliet Archer’s The Importance Of Being Emma which was also a modern retelling. And this one was indeed modern: Emma works, her feelings for Knightley evolve gradually and are more believable, and while sticking to the original plot, she takes enough liberties to give it credibility in today’s world.
The next one out is Northanger Abbey (of which I haven’t even read the original), and afterwards it’s Pride and Prejudice‘s turn. They had better not mess that one up!
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