Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Austen Project

During my recent European trip, I picked up a book by Joanna Trollope titled “Sense and Sensibility” (The Borough Press, 2013 - this is the British version that I read; the U.S. publisher is Harper, 2013) which, after an initial double take, I realized was her modern reworking of Jane Austen’s novel. Upon closer examination, I learned that this was the first book in the Austen Project, which is matching contemporary writers with Jane Austen’s six novels, each one providing a modern version of the original, in a twenty-first century setting and context. After I returned home, I found the second book in the Austen Project series, “Northanger Abbey” (Grove Press, 2014) by Val McDermid. These two are the only two published so far. Curtis Sittenfeld’s version of “Pride and Prejudice” is the next one up, scheduled to be published this fall. The authors of the other three novel reworkings have not yet been announced; it will definitely be interesting to find out who is chosen to write them. So, what about the first two? I had my usual conflicted feelings (which I have discussed in this blog before) about Austen prequels, sequels, retellings from the viewpoint of other characters, modern versions, etc. But the Austen Project seems more intentionally organized and coordinated than other versions I have seen, with the authors being carefully chosen. And I have to say that both Trollope and McDermid did a good job of capturing the feelings and characters of the Austen novels, but with enough tweaks to make them feel fresh and contemporary. There is, in each, much use of technology and of slang, to signal the contemporary nature of the novel. There are allowances for women’s vastly – but not completely – changed circumstances, along with other changes in society. Both novels are competently written and quite entertaining. So overall, I think the project is a fine idea, and I look forward to reading the other four novels as they come out. Of course no other versions, modern or otherwise, can possibly come anywhere close to living up to the originals, but reading these new versions is all part of the fun of finding different ways to live for a few hours in Jane Austen’s world.
Site Meter