My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is the third book from the Austen Project, the retelling by modern authors of the six books of the Austen oeuvre, that I have read, having previously read Emma by Alexander McCall Smith and Eligible, the retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld. It was actually the first book in the project that was published.
I have enjoyed all three books, but I have to say I think this is my favorite so far. I realize that is a bit of an unpopular view, as I've read several reviews panning the book. Well, sorry to be a contrarian but I loved it! I enjoyed it almost as much as the original.
I have not read any of Joanna Trollope's work previously, although I have read and enjoyed the work of her famous antecedent. She is a fifth generation relative of the honored Anthony and she has some of the same ability to tell a rousing tale of family and community life and relationships with all their tangled web of interconnections.
Of course, in this instance, the plot was already laid out for her as it has existed on the page for some two hundred years, but I thought she did an excellent job of translating the various Dashwoods, Ferrarses, Jenningses, Middletons, etc., into the twenty-first century, setting them down with all the modern conveniences but with their essential characters still intact just as Jane Austen first imagined them.
Elinor Dashwood is still all sense, affectionate but composed in her demeanor, and Marianne Dashwood is still all sensibility or emotion. Colonel Brandon is still kind, honorable, and gracious, and Edward Ferrars is friendly and honorable, if weak. The Middletons are still loud and boisterous but essentially good-hearted and John Willoughby ("Wills" in Trollope's telling) is still a bounder.
Trollope seemed to have a keen understanding of Sense and Sensibility and its large cast of characters and she appeared to be having fun with it and that ultimately helped to make it a fun read for me, almost ideal accompaniment for a summer vacation.
Trollope did make some minor changes to interpretations of the characters. For example, she gave a bit more ink to Charlotte and Tommy Palmer and I found that I quite liked them - not that I disliked them in Austen's book, but they were just given a bit more prominence here. The same was true of the youngest Dashwood sister, Margaret, who is portrayed as a typically fractious, but rather sweet teenager, with all the baggage that that stage of life implies.
I think that even a reader who was not particularly familiar with the original Sense and Sensibility could enjoy this book. It works as a stand-alone. After all, human nature and human foibles remain essentially intact and unchanged in the twenty-first century from what they were in the nineteenth. In that sense, Jane Austen's tale remains as fresh and relevant as ever.
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