Thursday, April 23, 2015

Not Happy with Alexander McCall Smith's "Emma"

The newest book in the Austen Project, which has contemporary writers writing modern versions of Jane Austen’s six completed novels (see my post of 7/6/14 about this project) is Alexander McCall Smith’s version of “Emma,” subtitled “A Modern Retelling” (Pantheon, 2014). I never in a million years would have thought of McCall Smith (author of the bestselling “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective” series, among many other very popular books) for this task. It is true that Emma is a sassy, irrepressible character, like some of McCall Smith’s. But really??? However, of course I had to read it, despite these doubts and reservations. And it is a fun read, faithful to the bones of the plot of the original. But it just doesn’t ring true to me, even allowing for the change of time period. For one thing, too many of the characters sound too different – not just more modern, but essentially different. The style is too casual. The match between the writer and the assignment is just not a good one, in my opinion. For Austen devotees, it will be hard to resist reading the book, but I predict rather profound disappointment on the part of most readers. (A coincidental postscript: After I drafted this post and before I posted it, I was making small talk with another juror at the lunch break of a trial I served at, we somehow started talking about this project, and this juror spontaneously offered a very negative assessment of this McCall Smith version of “Emma,” confirming my own reaction.)

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