Having read just about every Jane Austen story available, I was excited to see Val McDermid’s reimagining of NORTHANGER ABBEY, a classic that I truly enjoyed. Austen had a way of making friendship so important and integral to the plot that I wanted to see how that specific element would be treated in a new version that incorporated the all-encompassing smartphone. Yes, readers, smartphones.
Catherine Morland, better known as Cat to family and friends, is a sweet young woman who loves nothing more than to get lost in a good book. When she’s invited by family friends to spend time in Edinburgh at the Fringe Festival, she jumps at the chance to see and experience something outside of the Piddle Valley and her home in Dorset. Her traveling companions, the Allens, treat her to everything she can possibly imagine while at the Festival. Cat soon makes friends with Bella Thorpe, who, as it turns out, just happens to be in love with her brother, James. It seems like a perfect match all around, except where Bella’s brother, Johnny, is concerned. Johnny seems to think that Cat is in love with him --- and innocent Cat doesn’t see how that could have happened. And to make it even more complicated, Cat is infatuated with Henry Tilney. Henry’s sister, Eleanor, becomes a good friend of Cat’s as well, securing her attachment to the Tilney family.
"If you happen to be an Austen fan, I highly recommend McDermid’s latest. Find a quiet place to sit and go for it. It’s a fun reward."
As the Festival moves on, Cat finds a life she didn’t know was possible outside of Dorset. She attends dances, book readings, plays, and shops with an interest she never knew she had --- documenting it all on Facebook and Twitter, of course. Her new friends are amazing, and young love blooms. James and Bella are on a course for marriage, she’s head over heels in love with Henry, and, as far as she’s concerned, life couldn’t be better. When the Tilneys invite her to their family home, Northanger Abbey, she can’t wait, her head full of strange tales of what secrets the old Abbey might hold. What she finds when she gets there is something else entirely, but her imagination gets the better of her even then --- and that’s when every misunderstanding possible happens.
If you didn’t think Jane Austen and Facebook would work in the same story, well, you’d be wrong. In the original, those misunderstandings happened on paper; here, they occur in a more public domain but are just as capable of ruining lives. I was surprised to see how familiar the story felt to me. I was expecting it to feel slightly weighed down and somewhat too modern, but that doesn’t happen, which just goes to show how well Austen translates to today’s world. Friendship, love, and the problems and joys that come with them are all on display. I patiently waited for everything to play out, knowing that a clean slate would provide Cat with a life she both wanted and deserved. It’s a very satisfying read.
While some might not enjoy an update of a classic, I’ve never had an issue with reimaginings of already-told tales. There is something interesting in seeing how our modern world can take on the same problems and spit out something familiar, likable and fun. If you happen to be an Austen fan, I highly recommend McDermid’s latest. Find a quiet place to sit and go for it. It’s a fun reward.
Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on April 20, 2014
- Publication Date: April 14, 2015
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Grove Press
- ISBN-10: 0802123805
- ISBN-13: 9780802123800