My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This is another of the books in the Austen Project, modern authors retelling the Austen classics. This one even has the same name as the original.
Val McDermid is a successful author of crime thrillers, none of which I have read. She accepted the challenge of updating Northanger Abbey and chose to make the heroine, Catherine Morland, into a Twilight-loving, vampire-obsessed teenager. Since I'm not a big fan of Twilight or vampires in general - although I quite like Dracula - that artistic choice made it very hard for me to like Cat, as she is called in the book. She seemed utterly shallow and without substance, and since the book is all about her, that left the plot feeling quite flimsy and frivolous for me.
So, we have Cat Morland, sheltered, homeschooled daughter of a vicar and his wife from the little village of Piddle Valley in Dorset. It is a happy, loving family with four children, a brother older than Cat and two sisters who are younger. The family has quite straitened financial circumstances and there's not much chance for travel, so it is very exciting for Cat when their childless neighbors, the Allens, invite her to travel with them to Edinburgh for the summer Fringe Festival.
When they arrive in Edinburgh, Cat's world explodes with possibilities. She essentially takes the city by storm. She meets Bella Thorne who, almost instantly, becomes her BFF. Then she finds that Bella has her cap set for Cat's brother, James, who is a school friend of her brother, and she is equally determined that Cat will be paired with that odious brother, Johnny.
Soon, Cat also meets handsome Henry Tilney at a dance and loses her heart to him, and she also meets his sister Eleanor, who invites her to come and visit them at their family home, Northanger Abbey. Cat looks at online pictures of Northanger Abbey and is entranced by the idea of it because it looks like a place where vampires might dwell. Arriving at the Abbey, she imagines that the Tilneys are a family of vampires, but the thought doesn't scare her; it only excites her.
McDermid actually follows the original plot pretty closely, just changing carriages to cars and letters on paper to emails and texts and girls obsessed with The Mysteries of Udolpho to girls obsessed with Twilight and Herbridean Harpies. She makes a stab at updating the language of the teenagers, but that fell flat for me. Words like "totes" or "amazeballs" - I mean, are those even words? And do teenagers really talk like that? I don't have much opportunity to interact with teenagers these days, so perhaps I'm not the best judge...
I really don't have the heart to summarize the entire plot here. There was no one in the story that I felt a connection with, and so even though the book was fairly short, reading it felt like a bit of a slog. I found myself missing the witty dialogue and beautiful language of the original.
In fact, I think this book would probably be enjoyed more by someone who has never read the original and so has nothing with which to compare it. I can imagine that it might appeal to the readers of Twilight, for example, and if it could make those readers sufficiently curious about the writings of Austen to pick up the original and read it, that would be the best possible outcome.
(Here's a link to my Goodreads review of the original.)
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