by Alexander McCall Smith
Whilst there have already been several sequel’s to Jane Austen’s books, the very idea of this short series of modern retellings just sounds wrong. But, as a fan of Austen’s work, and with an ever open mind, I decided to give this one a try.
I wouldn’t say I was disappointed. The story itself is well told, as you would expect from a writer of McCall Smith’s calibre, but somehow, brining Emma Woodhouse kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century just didn’t quite work. Finding modern equivalents to the various dilemmas and manners of the early 19th century is an almost impossible task. And part of the charm of Austen’s works is the gentle and at sometimes innocent world in which they are set. The modern world is no place for the likes of Mr Woodhouse, Miss Bates or even Emma herself. It is a story of manners, and this is lost in the retelling.
Rather interestingly, what we do get is much more of a back story for the main characters. Whilst Austen concentrates on mobbing her story forward. McCall Smith takes much more time to flesh out his characters. This is interesting and adds some originality to the story. But for me, the whole thing seems to lack the integrity of the original. There is no modern equivalent for many of the events or social interactions and expectations, so the whole thing has an air of unbelievability to it that I found disappointing.
All that said, there is a kind of timelessness about the character of Emma Woodhouse that does manage to come across. Her attempts to manipulate the love lives of those around her does have an element of truth to it.
All in all, an enjoyable bit of light reading. I very much doubt I will return to it later, something I do fairly regularly with the original, but I don’t feel I wasted the time it took to read it. A good summer read, but hardly challenging.