Published by: Grove press
Genre: Contemporary Romance (YA)
Cat Morland is a 17-year-old home-schooled vicar's daughter from the Piddle Valley in Dorset on the South West Coast of England. Cat has lived a sheltered life and spends much of her time reading vampire romance and other moderately scary books for teenagers. She receives the chance to leave the confines of the Piddle Valley for the first time by her neighbours, the Allens, a childless couple who are friends of her parents, when they invite her to attend the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with them.
In Edinburgh, Cat becomes acquainted and makes friends with Bella Thorpe and Ellie Tilney, girls her own age. She experiences romance for the first time when she develops strong feelings for Ellie's older brother, Henry, while being pursued by Bella's crass and annoying older brother, Johnny.
As the Fringe is about to draw to a close, she receives an unexpected invitation to join Ellie at her home in Northanger Abbey. As well as seeing this as an opportunity to spend more time with her new friend - and more to the point her new friend's brother, Cat also likes the idea of visiting a real gothic abbey of the type she loves to read about in her novels. She begins to draw parallels between the characters of her much loved books and the lifestyle of the Tilney family; but do the facts really resemble those in fiction?
Val McDemid has followed the plot of Jane Austen's original to the letter, even lifting certain passages and conversations from it throughout. It has been brought into the 21st century, however, in that horses become cars, carriages become buses, hand-written letters become texts and emails, etc. The setting has changed as most of the story takes place in Edinburgh, rather than Bath. Scenarios have also been adapted, e.g. Henry is a trainee barrister instead of a clergyman.
In my view, this modern version reads better than the original for two reasons.
- Making it about a teenager's obsession with YA fantasy novels such as Twilight and having the main character's imagination run away with her as a result works better than the original, which is a parody of early gothic romance - one that did not work well for me.
- The original Catherine Morland is very naive. She comes across as an annoying simpleton and the original Henry Tilney sometimes comes across condescending towards her. (Presumably this was Austen having a pop at gothic romance novelists and how they portrayed their characters in her eyes.). McDermid has revised the character of Cat to naive but not simple-minded, and when her version of Henry makes the condescending remarks, he does so ironically.
This book is an average read. In fairness to McDermid, she was restricted by the original source material, which is, lets say, not Austen's best work; the plot is insipid and Catherine is irritating. McDermid has done a good job of improving it.
More Austen Project reviews
Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope (no. 1)
Emma by Alexander McCall Smith (no. 3)
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (no. 4)