Book Review: Emma: A Modern Retelling

As promised, I am here to review another book I read in May.  This one was actually on my May TBR, so go me!  Today I am talking about Emma: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith.  I've never read a retelling before, but I was feeling like trying something different, and also, pretty cover.  So of course.  Anyway, this was a fun read and I really enjoyed it!  But, let's get to the review.

Title: Emma: A Modern Retelling

Author: Alexander McCall Smith

Publisher/Price: Pantheon / $17.74 here

Type: Fiction

Genre: Romance / Classic Retelling

Number of pages: 368

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

My thoughts: This book is #3, I believe, in a series called The Austen Project, where good writers publish modern retellings of Austen's major novels.  To me, this seems like a daunting task.  Modernizing Jane Austen's famous works, while keeping her ardent supporters happy?  Close to impossible.  But as you know if you've been around these parts for a while, I am not a super crazy Jane Austen fan.  Up until reading Persuasion, I could take her books or leave them.  So going into this, I wasn't particular about the plot being accurate or the characters being identical to those of Austen's creation.  And I think Alexander McCall was the man for the job.  His writing style goes so perfectly with Austen's story, and that alone would have made me like this book.  His style is accessible, but also sounds exactly like the type of writing Austen herself would have been down for.  I absolutely adored the little tongue-in-cheek references back to the original novel.  For example, when Emma first hears of Harriet Smith, she exclaims that such a name sounds rather old-fashioned.  I loved those little things.

The Emma of McCall Smith's novel is a perfect modern reincarnation of Austen's Emma.  She is bright, witty and snarky, living with her ultra-health-conscious dad as she plans to open an interior design company.  I think the author did Emma justice, swapping horse-drawn carriage for Mini Cooper in such a way even Austen herself would have approved.  And her father is perfect.  Reading about him, I can only imagine how much fun the author had writing Mr. Woodhouse as a modern-day health nut.  He was the perfect character.  I really enjoyed all the characters in this book, especially Emma's governess, Miss Taylor.  I did think, however, like other reviewers, that there could have been more time spent developing Emma and Mr. Knightley's relationship.  That all happened rather quickly, and their lack of interaction left me feeling a little rushed at the end.

The setting of this book was a little unnerving at first.  A good portion of the first couple chapters or so is spent developing the characters, largely Mr. Woodhouse.  The author wrote Mr. Woodhouse as a very old-fashioned character to begin with, and although this retelling is placed in modern-day England, it took me a little while to get it straight in my head that it was in fact, modern day.  The idea of a governess, some mentions of Emma and her sister(s?) wearing dresses, and a couple other things left my brain a little confused while reading it.  Later on, however, I really began to enjoy the juxtaposition between a couple of the more old-fashioned characters and their modern setting.  If you aren't expecting that, though, it can be a little jarring at first.

Another thing I really enjoyed was that the little quirks that made the original Emma so endearing, are totally included in this retelling, even perhaps, magnified a little.  Mr. Woodhouse describes his health-craze in much more detail and he is even more eccentric than in the original.  Emma's painting of Harriet is even more scandalous and her interactions with Mr. Elton end up more serious than in Austen's Emma.  I found that really entertaining at times, and just a lot of fun.

Overall, I really enjoyed this retelling of Emma.  I'm not sure I would recommend it to one of those ardent, enthusiastic, have-read-all-the-books-twenty-times-and-watched-every-adaptation Austen fans, but I would recommend it to anyone who, like me, enjoys the Austen books but who wouldn't take offense if the story/character was altered slightly.  It was just a really fun, fast-paced book that would be an excellent choice for a summer read.

And those are my thoughts on Emma: A Modern Retelling.  I have some more reviews to do of books I read this month, so I will hopefully be back with more of those in the next few days, and also my June TBR.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella

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