Northanger Abbey (The Austen Project)

April 20, 2014 Classics, Fiction, Re-telling 12

18778806Title: Northanger Abbey
Author: Val McDermid
Source: from publisher for review
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Review Summary: Like the original, this book doesn’t have much of a plot or a proactive protagonist, but I liked that it was more atmospheric than the original and strongly disliked the changes to the ending.

The plot for this book is identical to the original Northanger Abbey. In fact, the book is basically just the original, modernized sentence by sentence. Surprisingly, I really liked that about it. I didn’t love the original book. I probably wouldn’t re-read the first book. Yet something about a retelling that just changes the setting while staying otherwise true to the source material appeals to me. This does, of course, mean that the plot was still largely nonexistent. Unlike Joanna Trollope’s writing in the Sense and Sensibility retelling for the Austen project, Val McDermid’s writing didn’t match how I imagine Austen would write if she were alive today. However, she did keep the writing tricks I liked the most from Austen’s writing in Northanger Abbey. This included her humorous under-selling of the heroine, her occasional breaking of the fourth wall, and her impassioned speeches in defense of the novel.

I was surprised to find that there were some things I liked even better in the retelling than in the original. I love Austen’s writing and the way we learn about social mores of the time, but the writing about places isn’t especially descriptive. In McDermid’s version, the setting was almost a character, with great descriptions of the film festival taking place, the local culture, the landscape, and the weather. I also thought McDermid did a fantastic job modernizing this story. References to social media didn’t feel at all jarring, something I find very few authors can accomplish for me. I also thought the modernization helped make some characters more relatable. In the original, some things that were socially acceptable in Austen’s time come across as rude now and sometimes a joke a character is telling is harder to get because of the archaic language. I also thought the references to modern books were a lot of fun.

There were a few changes from the original which I didn’t like as well. Being intentionally vague to avoid spoilers, there was an occurrence which caused some opinions about LGBT individuals to be expressed by both the characters and the narrator. While I got the impression that the author was trying to be politically correct and generally pro LGBT rights, I think what she wrote could have used some tweaks to make sure there was nothing that could seem offensive.  I also strongly disliked the ending which McDermid completely made up in which she basically says “it’s ok that there’s no point to this story, because it is not the job of fiction to teach us”. Although Austen was clearly making the point that we shouldn’t confuse fiction with reality, I hope she would never have been so silly as to say that fiction has nothing to teach us. As a great believer in the ability of both fiction and non-fiction to educate, I found this a profoundly unsatisfying ending to the story. I would, never-the-less, recommend this to fan’s of the original, since it’s a fun way of experiencing the story for the first time all over again.

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12 Responses to “Northanger Abbey (The Austen Project)”

    • DoingDewey

      Me too! I thought Joanna Trollope did a great job writing the way I imagine Austen might write today in her Sense and Sensibility re-telling, while McDermid did her own thing in terms of writing style but kept the original plot. I always like seeing how different authors approach retellings 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      Northanger Abbey was definitely not my favorite book by Austen, but no matter the book, her writing style is always a lot of fun 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      If you hadn’t read any, you should definitely give it a try some day, just to see if her writing suits you. I think it’s pretty unique and personally enjoy it a lot, but I suspect that most people either really love her writing or really dislike it.

  1. Charlene @ Bookish Whimsy

    I loved the most recent adaptation of Northanger Abbey, but I was a bit underwhelmed by the book. So I don’t think this retelling would be for me if it just keeps the original plot and has a disappointing ending. At least in the adaptation I thought they made the romance more appealing, and made the story more sweet and less sarcastic. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but I highly recommend it! 🙂
    Charlene @ Bookish Whimsy recently posted…The Refined Reader (6) The Library of AlexandriaMy Profile

    • DoingDewey

      I was a bit disappointed that the ending wasn’t changed at least a bit, since I did’t like that about the original either. I haven’t seen the newest adaptation, but I’ll keep an eye out for it at the library. Thanks for the recommendation!

    • DoingDewey

      Wonderful! I hope you enjoy that one as much as I did. I’m very excited about The Austen Project and plan on reading all of them too 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      Good choice! I don’t think was any better than the original and I think it’s more worthwhile to read the original since it’s a classic 🙂