Emma: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Anchor (April 5, 2016)
Reading Sara Rating: 4/10
I might be in a bit of a book slump, my friends. I had such high expectations of this book. Emma is my favorite Jane Austen book – and I was so excited to hear of a modern retelling (though a little nervous, because honestly, what could be better than Clueless??). Not only is Emma my favorite Austen novel, but Alexander McCall Smith is an incredible storyteller. I have been a longtime fan of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and was thrilled with this pairing.
Emma: A Modern Retelling is a part of the Austen Project, which surprisingly, I had no idea about until this book came on my radar. There has been a lot of buzz about the fourth book in the series, Eligible: a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, which is on my TBR list, but I may wait read some other while I wait for the sting of this one to die down. The Austen Project is pairing contemporary writers to pen a modern story of each of Jane Austen’s books. I appreciate the concept because Austen’s stories are timeless, but this one did not deliver for me.
Here is the deal with the character Emma: she is spoiled, a bit selfish, and makes mistakes as she figures out who she wants to be. Because of these things she is relatable and interesting. She figures it out in the end and makes amends. Unfortunately, McCall Smith painted her character as unfeeling, mean-spirited, and not relatable. I love the character for her flaws, but if I had never read the original book, I would have hated her. Her romance with Mr. Knightley in this retelling comes out of nowhere. It felt like the author had to finish the book quickly so did not take the time to make an ending that made any sense.
Frank Churchill was remarkably awful – and Jane Fairfax was equally as snobby as Emma. Emma’s fascination with Harriet Smith was weird and a little creepy. The only characters that I found interesting in a modern version were Mr. Woodhouse and Miss Taylor, who are constant northern stars to Emma. It was fun to live in the world again for a little while, but I was left wanting to re-read the original (and obviously watch Clueless again).
McCall Smith is still an incredible writer, and that is why I finished the book. His style of storytelling is appealing, and he can describe people well. I will continue to read his work, but this story was a miss for me. I wish he would have set the re-telling in Botswana to add a new depth to the characters and story, instead of just placing them in modern day English countryside.
I recommend skipping this one unless you too are a diehard Austen/Emma fan, and then I would love for you to read it so that we can talk about it!