‘Northanger Abbey’ by Val McDermid [sic]

Northanger Abbey book coverIf you like the idea of literary pastiche, then Val McDermid’s 21st century revision of Northanger Abbey [London: HarperCollins, 2014] could be for you. Distinguished crime writer and light of the British literary scene, McDermid has reimagined the story of Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney as young people of the present day, speaking a patois of their own and totally dependent on their smart phones and access to Twitter and Facebook.

Instead of the Assembly Rooms in Bath which Jane Austen knew well, we are transported to the Assembly Rooms on George Street in Edinburgh during the International Festival and its various fringes and the Book Festival nearby. Innocent and fairly naïve Catherine is invited to spend a month up there by her parents’ childless friends, the Allens, and encounters the hard-to-thole Thorpes and the delightful Tilneys; delightful that is until we meet the General and his elder son Freddy.

It is all great fun but raises the question of who this book is for. It could well appeal to a ‘young’ audience who might just be persuaded to go on to read Jane Austen’s original version. However, a great deal of the book’s enjoyment depends on knowing that original well enough to recognise the parallels with and tangents to Austen’s story. Given that foreknowledge, the amusement is added to but, alas, for me, it has not tempted me to see how other Austen novels have been reimagined. An interesting book marketing exercise but not much more than that.

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