Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"northanger abbey" by val mcdermid

About the book: Internationally bestselling crime writer Val McDermid has riveted millions of readers worldwide with her acutely suspenseful, psychologically complex, seamlessly plotted thrillers. In Northanger Abbey, she delivers her own updated take on Jane Austen’s classic novel about a young woman whose visit to the stately home of a well-to-do acquaintance stirs her most macabre imaginings, with an extra frisson of suspense that only McDermid could provide.

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, of course, her smartphone) 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? A delectable, note-perfect modern update of the Austen classic, Northanger Abbey tells a timeless story of innocence amid cynicism, the exquisite angst of young love, and the value of friendship.

My take: Northanger Abbey is the second entry in The Austen Project, where Jane Austen's works are "reimagined" by famous authors. I was not a very big fan of the first entry, Sense & Sensibility, but I do love the concept, so when a publicist asked me to review crime novelist Val McDermid's take on Northanger Abbey, I eagerly accepted. I'm very glad I did.

When I read Sense & Sensibility, one of my main complaints was that the minor details were modernized, while the rest of the book felt like it remained in the original setting. Northanger Abbey does not suffer from a similar malady. While the plot very clearly follows the original, the updates bringing it into the 21st century—everything from moving the setting to a festival in Edinburgh to having Cat obsessed with Facebook and Twitter—feel completely organic. McDermid retains the spirit of Austen's original without being shackled to it.

I did feel that the references to Jane Austen were a bit out of place, though. Perhaps a little self-awareness would have been in order here—if Cat or Henry had noted that Austen had written a book with characters that had, coincidentally, shared their names, I could have bought it. But to have Austen exist in this world but, apparently, not her novel seemed awkward. Better to not mention Austen at all, as she didn't play a major role in the story.

Additionally, the reason for General Tilney's sudden dislike of Cat rang a bit false. I wish McDermid had stuck a bit closer to the source in that case.

Overall, though, Northanger Abbey is a delightful take on the original. I eagerly await the next entry in The Austen Project.

Content note: While Northanger Abbey is tame by many standards, it does include several profanities sprinkled throughout. The amount of profanity definitely increases in the last quarter of the novel.

My rating: 4 stars

Buy the book.
Read my review of Sense & Sensibility.
Learn more about The Austen Project.

About the author: Val McDermid is the bestselling author of twenty-eight previous novels that have been translated into over forty languages. She lives in the north of England.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this product free for review from a publicist. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. Also, some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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