Thursday, May 1, 2014

Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid

3.5 Star

Cat Morland is ready to grow up. A homeschooled minister’s daughter in the quaint, sheltered Piddle Valley in Dorset, she loses herself in novels and is sure there is a glamorous adventure awaiting her beyond the valley’s narrow horizon. So imagine her delight when the Allens, neighbors and friends of her parents, invite her to attend the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh as their guest. With a sunny personality, tickets every night and a few key wardrobe additions courtesy of Susie Allen, Cat quickly begins to take Edinburgh by storm and is taken into the bosom of the Thorpe family, particularly by eldest daughter Bella. And then there’s the handsome Henry Tilney, an up-and-coming lawyer whose family home is the beautiful and forbidding Northanger Abbey. Cat is entranced by Henry and his charming sister Eleanor, but she can’t help wondering if everything about them is as perfect as it seems. Or has she just been reading too many novels?

Kaley - 3.5 Star

I'm a Jane Austen fan. That's a known fact. What isn't as known is that there are actually two Austen novels that I have not yet read. If you know Austen's novels you can probably guess which two they are – Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey. Because I hadn't yet read the original, I was a tad wary of diving into Val McDermid's take on Northanger Abbey, which is part of the awesome Austen Project. The Austen Project is taking each of Austen's six novels and assigning a contemporary author to rewrite the story for today's audiences. McDermid's is the second to be released. Sense & Sensibility was published last year and was written by Joanna Trollope. Back to the novel now...I decided that I would read this new take on an old classic before actually reading the old classic and I'm happy I did.

Because I don't know the original story, I wasn't sure how much McDermid really strayed from Austen's work. When I read Trollope's take on Sense and Sensibility I didn't like that there wasn't enough updating involved. I think McDermid did a much better job, though it took me awhile to realize it. In the original story, Catherine is sent to Bath with Mr. and Mrs. Allen. Mr. Allen is suffering from gout and as Mrs. Allen has a soft spot for her young neighbour, Catherine, she invites the teen along as a companion. In the updated book, Susie Allen asks Cat to come to Edinburgh to take in the Fringe Festival with them. I loved that it was an entirely new setting and it got the same idea across – young, small town girl in a new city, taking in all the sights and shops, and meeting many new people – while creating something new and unique to McDermid. It totally worked.

I really enjoyed reading about Cat. From what I've heard, I think Catherine Morland is a character that annoys a lot of people. Those feelings could come from the fact that Cat always sees the best in people, is so sweet, and a touch naive. I can see how that could get annoying but I kind of loved her. She was smart, she was funny, and she seemed like she would be an excellent friend. I certainly like her better than some other Austen heroines (cough, Emma, cough). She had such an awesome imagination and it was so much fun to see where her thoughts went when she was trying to make sense of the mysterious Tilney family. While I may not totally agree with her reading tastes, she'd rather believe that Twilight and vampires are real than the Harry Potter world, I think she was a fabulous heroine.

Speaking of friends, Cat starts hanging around with Bella Thorpe while in Ediburgh and I wanted to strangle that girl. She is the definition of frenemy. In fact, you could compare Bella to Regina and Cat to Cady from Mean Girls! I couldn't help but wish I was Cat's older sister and could let her know that Bella is evil and she should focus her time on Ellie. Alas, that was a lesson she needed to learn herself. I also could not stand Bella's brother, John. He was sleazy and full of himself and I longed to see a fist fight between him and Henry, the guy Cat had a crush on. I know violence isn't the answer but, man, when it comes to the Thorpe siblings, I wouldn't have minded one bit!

Overall, I think Val McDermid did a really great job of updating Northanger Abbey. I don't think I love the core story enough, which is why I only gave it 3.5 stars instead of 4, but that's a personal thing. Gothic stories just aren't my cup of tea. I'm still incredibly happy with where The Austen Project is going and I can't wait to read the next book!

Thank you to Grove Press for our review copy.  All opinions are our own.

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