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Books 127-128: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (1818) and Val McDermid (2014)

Book 127: Northanger Abbey.
Author: Jane Austen, 1818. Introduction by Val McDermid, 2014.
Genre: Classic. Comedy-of-Manners. Gothic Novel. Satire.
Other Details: Hardback. 289 pages.

Considered the most light-hearted and satirical of Austen’s novels, Northanger Abbey tells the story of an unlikely young heroine Catherine Morland. While staying in Bath, Catherine meets Henry Tilney and his sister Eleanor who invite her to their family estate, Northanger Abbey. A fan of Gothic Romance novels, naive Catherine is soon letting her imagination run wild in the atmospheric abbey. A coming-of-age novel, Austen expertly parodies the Gothic romance novels of her time and reveals much about her unsentimental view of love and marriage in the eighteenth century. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

As I had not read Northanger Abbey previously I decided it was a good idea to read it before reading Val McDermid's re-imagining for The Austen Project. I was surprised at the amount of comedy in it as well as the clear satire of the popularity of Gothic novels with young ladies. Austen also often breaks the fourth wall by addressing her reader and advising them of the choices she is making for her heroine. It seems a novel very ripe for updating given the current trend in YA paranormal romance to replace the Gothic novels that enthral Catherine. I did not quite feel the love story was as powerful as in other of Austen's novels though this perked up towards the end. Very glad that I finally read this.

Book 128: Northanger Abbey (The Austen Project #2).
Author: Val McDermid, 2014.
Genre: Chick-lit. Comedy-of-Manners. Gothic Novel. Satire.
Other Details: Hardback. 343 pages.

Seventeen-year-old Catherine ‘Cat’ Morland has led a sheltered existence in rural Dorset, a life entirely bereft of the romance and excitement for which she yearns. So when Cat’s wealthy neighbours, the Allens, invite her to the Edinburgh Festival, she is sure adventure beckons .... - teaser from The Austen Project website.

Bravo Val McDermid! Having just completed reading Jane Austen's original Northanger Abbey I felt that this contemporary re-imagining was a very faithful adaptation; certainly with changes but keeping with the feel of the original.

Val McDermid does a sterling job of re-imagining Northanger Abbey as a contemporary coming-of-age story. She keeps all the same characters: the shopaholic Susie Allen, Cat's new friend Bella Thorpe, who shares her passion for supernatural novels; Bella's obnoxious brother John, who switches the open carriage of the original for a flashy sports car; Cat's own brother James and of course, Henry Tilney, his sweet natured sister, Eleanor and their rigidly formal father, General Tilney, updated to a Falklands hero. Edinburgh takes the place of Bath and Northanger Abbey is now moved to the Scottish Borders.

The text was peppered with popular culture and moving the action from Bath to Edinburgh for the annual festival made sense. Having both novels side by side made it clear that Ms. McDermid had mirrored the original chapter-by-chapter. Overall, I felt she did a better job than Joanne Trollope did with Sense and Sensibility though to be fair that is one of Austen's most famous works whereas Northanger Abbey is less well known and regarded. The subject matter being satirised is ripe for updaing with the current popularity for paranormal romances. So Cat's fantasies about Twilight and sparkly vampires fits well. In addition, Henry came much more alive on these pages than I felt he did in the original. It made the romance between he and Cat feel more vital.

In conclusion I agree wholeheartedly with J. K. Rowling who wrote: "'Val McDermid’s brilliant re-working of Jane Austen’s original shows that innocent, bookish girls in thrall to the supernatural have changed surprisingly little in two centuries. Witty and shrewd, full of romance and skulduggery – I loved it." I did too.

The Austen Project website.
Tags: chicklit, classic, contemporary, gothic novels, satire
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