SUNDAY RUNDOWN – THAT’S WHAT SHE READ

animation, binge watching, book haul, books, currently reading, Jane Austen, just read, recently watched, YA

I’ve just got back from a weekend spent at a music festival and, despite really wanting to sleep, I’m finishing off my rundown. Because I’m all about the schedule. It was a three day event that I went to with my sister and her husband. Instead of having to camp I was able to stay at their house near the festival ground. I’ve been to a few festivals over the years and, whilst I don’t hate camping per se, I’ve never been able to sleep in the din of the campsite. Plus, brushing my teeth in front of strangers is never a great thing. So being able to sleep in a proper bed and shower and stuff was a massive plus point. The festival itself was great. I can’t complain about the music, despite not knowing many bands that were playing. And it was one of the nicer grounds I’ve been to. There were plenty of people complaining about the portaloos but really I’m happy if there’s toilet roll, hand sanitiser and no naked strangers when I walk into a festival toilet. But I’ve always been fairly easy to please.

Currently Reading

  • One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus
I had’t meant to start this yet but I wanted to have a book this weekend. So I figured this YA would be an easy one to get in and out of. So far I think it’s living up to all of its cliches and I can see me getting more annoyed as time goes on. Still, it is a super quick read and I should be done soon enough.

Just Finished

  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
So my August Austen read along is over and I’m done with Sense and Sensibility. Rereading this was fine but I still find Austen frustrating in general. Here, more than ever, it all just seems to neat to be realistic. Everything has to tied up in a neat bow even if it doesn’t feel right. Marianne shouldn’t have settled for Brandon and Brandon, in turn, should have realised that Elinor was the woman for him. Nobody ends up with the right partner and it just sucks.
  • The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet
I was going to look back and work out how long I’d been reading this for but that would have made me too sad. Now I’ve reached the end I can see this for the great read it was. It’s a great book that deserved a better reader.

Recently Purchased 
  • How Not To Be a Boy by Robert Webb

I was doing really well this week and not buying books. Then I went on Facebook and somebody reminded me that comedian Robert Webb’s memoir, that also tackles the subject gender stereotyping, was out. I have loved Robert Webb since I first watched him and his comedy parnter, David Mitchell, in Peep Show. I think he’s a great man and have always loved his writing for The Guardian. So I was excited to read this anyway but the added bonus of exploring gender norms just pushed this over the edge. I can’t wait to get this.


Recently Watched 
  • Netflix Binges: Modern Family
I think I’m finally up-to-date with Modern Family now thanks to my latest short binge. I watched all of the remaining episodes of season 8 that I hadn’t watched so, when I was done, decided to go back to the beginning. They look so bloody young. I can’t cope.

  • Minions
I put myself through the arduous task of watching this for my last TBT review. Find out how bad I really found it here.

SUNDAY RUNDOWN – THAT’S WHAT SHE READ

book haul, books, currently reading, Jane Austen, Kenneth Branagh, Kristen Wiig, Netflix, recently watched, Stephen King, Steve Carell, Steven Spielberg, YA

So, you may have noticed that last week I failed to upload my weekly rundown. That was because I was in Scotland this time last week with my family. Sunday 20th August was a very special day so we booked a few days in a cottage in South West Scotland. It’s the part of the country that my grandfather was originally from so we’ve been on more than a few holidays there. It’s safe to say it’s a special part of the world for us so it was the perfect place to celebrate. The Sunday marked the 40th anniversary of my parents’ marriage and a year since my older sister got married. Whilst it may still freak me out that my sister picked the same day to get married, it was a nice coincidence that both big occasions fell on the same day. So as you can imagine it was a busy weekend and, by the time I got back on Monday, I was far too exhausted to post anything. However, what I lacked in blog updates I had more than made up for in reading. I found my groove again on holiday and have been steadily making my through my books. I guess finding myself in a cottage with no internet access and no computer really forced me to get back to basics. I’m pleased to say that I’ve, kind of, kept up with it since I’ve been back but, I have to admit, the lure of TV and internet shopping have distracted me somewhat.

Currently Reading

  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
I did a bit of Jane Austen reading whilst I was in Scotland but, if I’m honest, I focused mainly on 7th Function because I’m so desperate to finish it. I think I’m enjoying rereading this but it’s possible that, in my head, Elinor is actually Emma Thompson. I love the film version so much that I think I retrospectively love the book more. It’s also not the worst Austen book out there I guess.
  • The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet
On the first real day of our Scotland trip my mother and I were left to our own devices when the rest of the fam abandoned us in favour of a stupid football match. When we were forced back inside due to averse weather conditions, I managed to get through 100 pages of this book. That’s probably more than I’ve read the rest of the month combined. I’m not obsessed with finishing and hope to do it either tonight or tomorrow if I’m lucky. Then I can finally read something new. It’ll be amazing.

Recently Purchased 
  • It by Stephen King

This was one of those books that I just bought on a whim when I was at the supermarket the other day and it was because of the cover. I normally hate film tie-in covers (as I’ve bitched about on Instagram earlier this month) but the cover that accompanies the new adaptation of this Stephen King classic is so well done. It’s very simple and there are just two great pops of colour. I couldn’t resist it.

  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
So, we all know that this is THE book of the moment but I was avoiding buying it until I had read a few more of my TBR books. That was until I saw it on offer at the supermarket. Two new books for £7? Who can walk away from that kind of deal? Not me. Anyway, I’m super excited to get into this one as I’ve literally only heard great things about it. It sounds tremendous and right up my street. Plus, any book with a quite from Barack Obama on the cover has got to be worth a look.

  • One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus
I know I’m probably setting myself up for a disappointment here because my track record with popular YA fiction just isn’t great. Still, I’ve always liked the idea of this. It sounds like The Breakfast Club meets Agatha Christie or something. It’s probably going to be full of reference to the John Hughes film that will annoy me as well as the over reliance on nostalgia that YA is full of. However, I’m willing to give it a chance because, I imagine, it won’t take me long to read.

Recently Watched 
  • Netflix Binges: Veep, Black Books
Now TV is just my favourite thing right now. I do miss Netflix, especially when I realised that I never finished the first season of Designated Survivor and whenever I see a promo for The Defenders, but there is so much choice here. The amount of great British comedy and shity reality TV on offer is fantastic. I almost definitely will go back to Netflix soon but, for now at least, I’m sticking here. I mean I’ve finally finished Veep after thinking about it for years and with Westworld on there I can cross that off the list. Currently I’m revisiting Black Books for the millionth time and it’s still fabulous.

  • Dunkirk
Watched this to prove my sister’s boyfriend wrong about his criticism. Read more about my pettiness and Christopher Nolan’s film in my Tuesday review.
  • Saving Private Ryan
The war film to change all war films… apparently. I’ve never felt the love for this film that most people do. So I decided to rewatch it for my TBT review. And, to be honest, I’m always up for watching that D-Day landings sequence. It’s fucking exquisite.

  • Despicable Me 3
I needed something to watch for next weeks Tuesday review because, in all likelihood, I won’t be ready to review 7th Function yet. It’s always good to have a back-up.

SUNDAY RUNDOWN – THAT’S WHAT SHE READ

binge watching, book haul, Cameron Diaz, currently reading, Edgar Wright, Harry Potter, Jane Austen, Kate McKinnon, Netflix, recently watched, Scarlett Johansson, women

I’m not going to lie, this has been a terrible work week. The girl who is responsible for out rotas messed up everyone’s holiday so we’ve been pretty short staffed this week. As it’s the school holidays that means we’re extra busy so we’ve all been feeling the strain. It’s times like this when everyone starts to feel unappreciated and used. There’s a very bad atmosphere in the branch right now and it’s not a great place to be. It’s also meant that I’ve been super tired and not really in the mood for reading much this week. So I’ve barely got any further with my reading. And it doesn’t help that I’ve officially got 3 books on the go. Even though student me was more than capable of reading three books at once, it seems that 30 year old me is only just able to cope with one. But I really don’t see why I care so much. I think starting Instagram has made me more competitive about reading quickly but this also means I’m more likely to read badly. If I’m focusing on quantity rather than quality then I’m not giving each book my full attention. So I’m vowing to give up on yearly book quotas and just focus on getting better at the basic act of reading.

Currently Reading

  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
The only bit of reading I’ve done this week has been to get a few more chapters into this book. I’m reading my old university copy so it’s both lovely and cringe-worthy to read my old notes. Some of them of so silly that I’m a bit ashamed.
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling
I’m gonna just say it. I hate The Chamber of Secrets. If I decide to get back to this then I might skip a few chapters until Harry and co are back at school. It’s just too boring at first.
  • The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet
It’s frustrating that I really want to finish this but that I need to focus on Sense and Sensibility. I’m going away for a few days next weekend so I’ll take this with me and see how it goes.

Recently Purchased 
  • Jane Austen Collection (Arcturus Classics) by Jane Austen

I couldn’t resist this hardcover boxset of Jane Austen novels when I found it pretty cheaply. I’m not exactly her biggest fan but these covers are to die for. You may have seen them grace my Instagram recently and I can promise you that you’ll be seeing them time and time again. 

  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
I bought this book for three reasons: 
      1. I have an upcoming Instagram prompt that I need it for. 
      2. I really have wanted a copy of this for ages. 
      3. The new eau-de-nil covers for Penguin Modern Classics are just gorgeous. 
I mean, for a book with pictures of two murders on the front, this is one beautiful book. I’ve spent all day filling my virtual basket with more of the new green backed classics and watching the as the total racks up to an insane amount of money. I’ll probably just buy them sporadically instead of all in one go.

Recently Watched 
  • Netflix Binges: Futurama, Veep
I’m quite enjoying my subscription to Now TV. I miss Netflix, obviously, because their original content is pretty damn good for the most part. However, there are plenty of shows I’m finally getting the chance to rewatch or start from scratch. I’ve only seen the later seasons of Futurama once so I’m not as familiar with them but there are some great episodes that I’d forgotten about. I’m not as big a fan of the series of specials but season 7 onwards has some gems. Then there’s Veep which I’d never seen until now. I love it. It’s got everything great about the Thick of It but with Julia Louis-Dreyfus being awesome as an added bonus. I’ve also got my eye on Silicon Valley but have yet to start that binge.

  • Baby Driver
An ex-colleague and I have a standing arrangement to get together at least once a month to go to the cinema. She and I have pretty similar taste in films but she desperately wants to see Valerian. I managed to convince her that Edgar Wright’s new film was the better choice. Come back Tuesday to hear my thoughts.
  • Rough Night
Had been quietly tempted by this because of my love of Kate McKinnon. I should probably stop basing my film choices solely on my love for the actors involved. I reviewed this for my last Tuesday’s Review.

  • Very Bad Things
There have been plenty of comparisons between Rough Night and this 90s dark comedy. So I decided to revisit it to see what all the fuss was about and so I had something to talk about for TBT this week.

SUNDAY RUNDOWN – THAT’S WHAT SHE READ

book haul, books, Chris Evans, currently reading, Elisabeth Moss, Harry Potter, Jane Austen, Netflix, recently watched

What a week it’s been. My social life has blown up in the last 7 days. I went out for drinks not once but twice. I’m a social butterfly. It’s exhausting being this in demand. I’m more used to just being inside and reading/binge watching some shit. Still, I just about coped, which is good because I’m no longer alone at home. Aside from work, I’ve not really spoken to people much in the last 2 weeks. Other than myself of course. I’d wander around the house having conversations with myself to fill the silence. That’s probably the most depressing thing I’ve ever written but it’s true. I still find myself doing it not despite the fact that there are actual living people I can talk to now. I just need to get used to the whole response part of talking now. It’s such a good job I don’t live alone. I’d literally never talk to anyone but my colleagues. I already have something of a lax attitude towards socialising as it is. At least I’d always have time to read, though.

Currently Reading

  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
I’m not the biggest Jane Austen fan, as I’ve probably mentioned, but my bookstagram friend is hosting a read along for her #austenaugust2017 tag. So I’m reading it again. The beginning bits of any Austen novel are just fairly tedious so I’m still waiting to get to the good stuff.
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling
In favour of the bookstagram read along, I’ve had to put this to one side for a while. I’m still not in the mood for this. I honestly think Chamber is the worst and it’s not the easiest to read. Maybe I can just skip it?
  • The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet
I’ve read some of this but my focus has certainly been on rereading Sense and Sensibility. It’s been ages since I was a student so my days of being able to multi-task with books has long since ended. I’ll hopefully finish this one by the end of the month but I need to actually do some reading for that to happen!
Recently Purchased 
  • Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body by Sara Pascoe
I love Sara Pascoe as a comedian. I think she’s incredibly funny in a way that someone like Amy Schumer isn’t. She manages to be funny without trying to act like a man. I’m not a fan of Schumer anyway because (accusations of joke stealing aside) I find that Amy Schumer tries to hard to appear “laddish” to make it seem okay that she’s making jokes. It’s really fucking annoying and goes with the idea that women can’t be funny. Sara Pascoe makes jokes about being a woman in a way that a woman would. Anyway, I love her and have wanted to read her book for ages. So I finally bought it and am really looking forward to it.
Recently Watched 
  • Netflix Binges: Teachers, Top of the Lake
I have some news, I recently cancelled my Netflix subscription. It’s only briefly but I decided that Now TV was the better one these days because it means I can watch Game of Thrones legally. I’m enjoying it for now though because there are so many great boxsets to watch. Including the whole of Teachers which I’m nearly done with. I don’t think I ever watched Season 4 because, by that point, most of the original cast were gone so I didn’t care. It’s nice to finally see it. It’s the shittest season by far but it’s nice. Then, on the recommendation of a coworker, I watched the whole of the second series of the BBC’s epic drama Top of the Lake in a couple of days. It was an intense and awful story but the series is so good. I hope there’s a 3rd. Elisabeth Moss is fantastic and we need to see her more. 
  • Gifted
I only saw this because of all the adorable interviews that Chris Evans has done with his young co-star. Was it worth it? Find out in my Tuesday review this week.

  • Scott Pilgrim vs the World
I’ve had a craving to watch this again for a while now. I decided that my TBT review this week was the perfect excuse.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

films, Jane Austen, meh, review

It is a truth universally acknowledged that, that a literature student not in possession of originality must be a fan of Jane Austen. I’m not a typical literature student. I spent most of my university years being shunned by tutors and students for daring to suggest that Austen really isn’t that great. It was almost as bad as the time I told my A Level teacher that I hated Dickens and he spent the rest of the year plotting my demise. After all, having independent thought is supported in higher education even if the majority of people around you think you’re a fool. Regular readers of my rambling thoughts will also be aware that I’m completely over the whole Zombie trend. So it seems unlikely that I’d be the first person waiting in line to see Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Although, if there’s one thing I know about maths its that two negatives make a positive. Surely, this must be the greatest film that I’ll ever see?

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is exactly what it says on the tin. A rewriting of Jane Austen’s novel with added zombies. The narrative follows that of the romantic novel whilst stopping every now and then for the characters to kick some undead arse. Mr Bennett (Charles Dance) has raised his daughters to understand the ins and out of fighting the zombie hoardes that have now infected Great Britain. They have amazing combat skills but are having less luck at finding a husband. Thankfully, their mother (Sally Phillips) is pushing them into good partnerships with the various wealthy young men returning from the fighting outside London.

Anyone vaguely familiar with the novel or the masses of adaptations will have no trouble discerning where the plot is going. Elizabeth Bennett (Lily James), the feisty and independent daughter, is initially drawn to the mysterious Darcy (Sam Riley) but he feels that she is beneath him. However, both turn out to be adept zombie killers and the pair must join forces to save their loved ones and their country from a potential invasion. The problem with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is that it is neither a very good retelling of Pride and Prejudice nor is it a very good zombie film. Yes, it has more literary standing than most mindless tales of the zombie apocalypse but the whole premise lies on the only slightly humorous idea of Pride and Prejudice mixed with zombies. It is a sketch that was somehow drawn out into a novel and was then adapted for the screen.

With such a low certificate rating that the level of gore is basically non-existent. If violence isn’t the dominating feature of a zombie film, then it is usually wit that saves it. However, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies possesses neither the bite of most zombie films nor the biting commentary of Jane Austen’s works. It’s as if, during the planning stages, nobody decided on what this film was going to be. It tries to be funny and serious at the same time. On the one hand, the cast goes all out to try and play their roles in the traditional period drama manner but they also play up the absurdity of their situation. For something trying super hard to be both scary and funny, it is painfully bad at doing either.

Although, that’s not to say that there is nothing to like about this offbeat mashup. There are some fine action pieces in there and the female leads all delight in shaking off their corsets and letting their blades do the talking for them. And for an Austen hater like me, this is perhaps the most fun I’ll have with an adaptation of the novel. It’s a weird film that I both loved and hated in equal measure. I guess I just wanted more from it. If it had played up on the humour or made its zombie hoarde more terrifying then I would have been left rejoicing. As it stands, it was an interesting experience that I’m not super keen to repeat any time soon.

TBT – Clueless (1995)

anniversary, Jane Austen, Paul Rudd, review, TBT, teen movie
If you’ve been around these parts before, you may be aware that I’m not the biggest fan of Jane Austen. I know, I know. It’s not the kind of thing book nerds tend to admit to. I did two literature degrees that focused on Romanticism and had to suffer the sneers of my professors and fellow students whenever Austen appeared on my reading list. Turns out nobody trusts a book lover who hates the Queen of chick lit. But, frankly my dears, I don’t give a shit. Austen is a paint-by-numbers kind of writer so once you’ve read one novel you’ve read them all. However, I’m a pretty big fan of the attempts by other media to adapt her novels into something people can genuinely enjoy. Of course, the pinnacle of these attempts is still one of the best teen movie of all fucking time.

Clueless is celebrating it’s 20thanniversary this week. With the unfortunate 90s fashion revival recently, it has become a fairly trendy piece of Hollywood history which is something that would usually fill me with annoyance. As a bitter and cynical 27 year old, I don’t really like it when the younger generations start taking something I love as their own. They’re sacred. However, Cluelessis one of those films that I’ve been forcing my friends to watch for years. It’s amazing. Everyone should watch and enjoy it… despite the fact it’s based on a Jane Austen novel.
Emmais my father’s favourite Jane Austen novel. I found this out during an argument with my friend during which I hypothesised that Northanger Abbey is the only Austen novel worth reading. I realise this is a strange fact to include but it’s something that always makes me want to be nicer about it. Although no amount of paternal love can convince me that Emma is anything more than Sex and the Cityfor a 19thcentury audience. Of course, this does make it the perfect basis for an outrageous, 90s teen movie.
Clueless stars Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz, a high school student with a wardrobe that made every teenage girl in the 90s sick with jealousy and the desperate need to solve people’s problems. Cher is the stereotypical California rich girl but with something deeper underneath. She is incredibly self-absorbed but shows just enough awareness to those around her that you can’t hate her. Silverstone does a great job of portraying the character wholeheartedly that you get the joke but there is just enough irony there that you understand Cher is more than she seems.
Cher and her friend Dionne are high school students who are treading the murky waters of romance and popularity. Cher, who is more than happy to set up her teachers to improve her grades, has a tough time finding love for herself. So instead she focuses on a seemingly hopeless case, new girl Tai (Britanny Murphy). Cher moulds Tai into a carbon copy of herself because she really cares. She just doesn’t know how best to help this clueless young woman.

The narrative is fairly uninspiring in terms of originality: I mean it’s not like those who haven’t read the book won’t be able to see how things will end. However, it has fun with itself. It pokes fun at the section of society it portrays and, in its own way, the traditions of teen movies. Cluelessis a funny, silly and fresh take on a classic novel. Able to forgo the typical britches and bonnets style interpretation, it becomes a film that is both a successful adaptation of Emmaand a successful teen movie in its own right. It introduced me to the wonder that is Paul Rudd and I will happily watch this film again and again… and I will always be jealous of Cher’s computerised wardrobe. 

Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid

books, Jane Austen, modernisation, review, rom-com

Last year, HarperCollins launched their Austen Project with the release of Joanna Trollope’s updated version of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. The project was clearly born out of a well-thought out marketing strategy to take the hard earned pennies off both the modern writer’s pre-existing fans and Austen lovers whilst introducing her works to people scared of dipping their toes into Romantic era prose. However, the publication of the first in the series didn’t offer the resounding success that the firm were clearly hoping for. The major reaction tended to be that, whilst the novel was fairly well written and very tounge-in-cheek, it was all a bit pointless. Back in March this year, the second modernisation was released: an update of the under-appreciated Northanger Abbey, a novel Austen wrote in her youth, by crime writer Val McDermid. Northanger Abbeyis my favourite Jane Austen novel (not that it means a lot coming from an Austen cynic such as myself) so there was a lot more riding on this than the previous attempt.

Northanger Abbeywas the story of the young and sheltered Catherine Morland who, after indulging in a youth of exciting literature, is introduced to high society with fairly disastrous consequences. The novel offered the usual portrait of a society obsessed with finding the right husband whilst also introducing a comedic element revolving around the relationship between fact and fiction in the minds of young women. The first half fits the mould that became the standard for her later work but the second half is an incredibly witty satire of the much feared Gothic writing that was popular with young people at the time.
In her rewriting of the classic, Val McDermid, seasoned crime writer, makes the inspired decision to transport the action over the Scottish borders and have the Edinburgh festival stand in for the pump room in Bath. Her Catherine becomes Cat who finds the move from sleepy Piddle Valley to the vibrant festival circuit a revelation that she continually shares via her social media accounts. Along the way she meets and falls head over heels for the mysterious lawyer Henry Tilney who has pretty much descended into an amalgamation of every character Hugh Grant played in the 90s and early 00s. With few friends in her home town, Cat is delighted to make the acquaintance of flashy Bella Thorpe but, in order to keep her friend happy, she must put up with her obnoxious, self-obsessed brother Johnny (basically Spencer Matthews from Made in Chelsea).
As in Trollope’s rewriting, the novel stays extremely close to the original and there are moments when McDermid copies scenes word-for-word from Austen’s text. For the most part it feels like she isn’t really bothering to try. There is hardly anything within this update that will keep people aware of Austen’s novel gripped to the tale. There is only one occasion where the author is forced to deviate from the original and, I have to admit, it was a fairly interesting way of dealing with General Tilney’s sudden change of heart.  
 Aside from this brief moment, there has been no real effort made to update the text and it still fails to fully fit into its new setting. To balance this discomfort, there are copious references to the modern world and the teenage Cat is never without her smart phone and posts selfies to her Facebook account any chance that she gets. This raises problems of its own, however, when problems arise that could easily be solved with a simple text or phone call. McDermid is forced to make odd choices in order to ensure that the novel progresses as it did in the original.
Despite all of these incessant references and in-jokes, there still remains the problem that modern teenage girls don’t have the same worries as they did in Austen’s day. Relationships may still be a core issue but marriage and planning for the future are less vital. The Cat Morland of McDermid’s novel is a stranger to both 19th century society and the society that the author is trying to emulate. The way that she talks and acts just seem slightly alien and even the way she falls for Henry has an incredibly old-fashioned edge to it.  She can use the word “totes” as many times as she likes but McDermid has failed to get into the head of a teenage girl in 2014.
Now this isn’t an issue that I’m blaming McDermid for: I just think it’s nearly impossible for an adult author to write completely accurate teenage characters. It was a problem that I found with John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars when I finally jumped on the bandwagon. Now I am loathe to criticise Green because I have adored him since my first viewing of VlogBrothers. However, I found his teenagers just felt unnatural. The best moments in my opinion were the one concerning Hazel’s parents, which is probably because that is the perspective that John Green has.
Without wishing to criticise the skill of Val McDermid too much, I found her attempt to portray teenage girls at best humorously bad and at worst cringey. The relationship between Cat and Bella pretty much descends into the pair talking referring to each other as “girlfriend” which, unless I’m mistaken, has real validity outside of these characters race. You wouldn’t meet this version of Cat, Bella or Elinor in the modern world because they have been lifted from a strange alternate reality where technology advanced but social structures, beliefs and sensibilities stayed in the 19th century.  
Considering what a fantastic character Austen’s Catherine was McDermid really ruined her for me. Cat spends most of the first half getting a bitcarried away but it isn’t until the second section that the character really beings to unravel. The contemporary author really struggles to translate the Gothic satire into her modern setting. There would have been adequate opportunity for McDermid to call on her experience with crime fiction to transpose Catherine’s imagined murder mystery into a contemporary setting. Unfortunately, where Catherine Morland devoured Ann Radcliffe’s The Mystery of Udolpho (an excellent if challenging read if I may say so), Cat Morland reads Twilight and other teenage fantasy romance. Clearly McDermid is having her own fun with modern YA fiction but the narrative progression creates problems.
The plot demands that Cat is shown to have become so engrossed with these tales that they take control of her unworldly imagination. We are expected to believe that Cat is so taken with these works that she readily believes that the youthful General Tinley, a Falklands veteran, is in fact a vampire. In fact, that his whole family, including the dreamy Henry, are vampires. Now I could easily handle Catherine Morland letting her imagination run wild in the desolate and Gothic Abbey after reading too much Radcliffe. However, I refuse to believe that anyone, even a teenager in 2014, would happily hypothesise that mysterious people are vampires.
Simply put, McDermid has made the fatal mistake of turning the once naive and trusting Catherine Morland into the unforgivably stupid Cat. I’m so fucking mad.
Northanger Abbeyis a readable novel, sure, but there is the unshakable sense that McDermid simply isn’t trying. These authors are probably too good to really give a damn about copying old novels whilst introducing a few modern ideas to the mix. I read it. I didn’t completely hate it but I just didn’t care. If the point of this project was to push people back into the safe embrace of Jane Austen’s originals then well done to HarperCollins but if not it has been a thoroughly pointless affair.

Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope

books, Jane Austen, modernisation, review, rom-com, women

A few years ago it was announced that The Austen Project would task six bestselling contemporary writers with updating one of Jane Austen’s novels. Most probably in an attempt to introduce modern readers to one of England’s most loved authors and to prove that her work is still relevant within today’s society. The news was received with the inevitable dismay of her many fans who think it sacrilegious to mess with the words of their beloved novelist. To the chagrin of my Romanticism professors, I have never been a major fan of Austen: in fact I can only really admit to actually fully enjoying Northanger Abbey, which is simply because the second half of the book is batshit crazy and Gothic. It’s always seemed to me that Austen was writing Bridget Jones’ Diary with added corsets which meant that women of every generation have lapped up the hopelessly romantic journeys of her heroines whilst still feeling as though they are enjoying some sort of feminist doctrine. 

Now I’m not trying to say that she isn’t talented and there is real evidence within her novels that she was clever and very witty. However, no amount of random and bitchy tangents can change the fact that she is the grandmother of chick-lit and I’ll never be able to get excited reading the tales of annoying girls falling in love with utterly objectionable men. Regardless, I was interested in this modernisation plan because when it is done well it can be fantastic. For example, Emma may be my dad’s favourite Austen novel but you can just give me Clueless any day of the week. Plus, no matter what I may have just said, I don’t really mind Sense and Sensibility but that is mainly thanks to Emma Thompson’s lovely adaptation. So, as soon as I could find a cheap enough version, I set about to see whether Trollope had pulled off a Clueless or a She’s the Man.


One thing I can’t criticise is the choice of author. No matter what I think of Joanna Trollope in the grand scheme of things she does understand the world that Austen was concerned with and she certainly knows the novel inside and out. In terms of her rewriting, she stays very close to the original plot: the level-headed and stoic Elinor becomes an architecture student whilst the emotional and dramatic Marianne is a layabout guitarist with asthma. Along with their family, the sisters must leave their beloved home to start a new life with no money and no real idea about romantic entanglements.

Trollope’s rewriting is an unchallenging piece where Austen’s archetypes are placed into a weird Made in Chelsea world of abbreviations, social media and, most shockingly of all for Austen fans, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. The plot meanders along fairly easily but it often finds itself coming undone thanks to clumsy exposition, awful romantic-comedy clichés and cringey toff stereotypes. It is easy to get caught up in the tale but there are far too many moments when it is painfully clear that Trollope took the easy way out and the whole thing seems a little uninspired.
Although, the modernisation of the characters, for the most part, works quite well and I particularly enjoyed the stroppy teenage Margaret with her iPod constantly attached to her head. Trollope’s focus on well-rounded characters works in her favour and she is able to give new life to those that Austen kept more in the shadows. In the original both Brandon and Edward are horrendously eclipsed by Willoughby in order to highlight his overwhelming appeal but here they are given new life and more weight. Hell, Trollope even managed to make the girls’ awful mother seem like a real person and that is certainly something worth celebrating.
Then again, Marianne is a bit more of a problem here as you can’t really exchange the curse of sensibility with having asthma. In the original she falls into a depression because she is utterly destroyed by her first love: a full physical and mental breakdown brought on by her excessive sensibility. Her pain is complex and far deeper than the updated M is ever allowed to be. Austen was attempting to discuss a serious side effect of the cult of sensibility that was raging through society but Trollope has, for her own reasons, decided to ignore the psychological ramifications for modern teenagers. Her M remains an annoying hipster-ish girl who is rude and outrageous as a weird act of social revolution. No matter how awful the original Marianne may be you still care: Trollope’s version was a lazy, self-centred young girl who spent time she should have been using to help her family playing Taylor Swift songs. It feels like a bit of a waste.
Nevertheless, there are some other fantastic moments where the modern world comes crashing into Austen’s original. Take the moment when Marianne’s humiliation at the hands of Wills is posted to YouTube so all the world can be a part of her emotional downfall. Then we have the awful Nancy Steele channelling the ultimate Sloane ranger whilst Robert Ferrars, the closeted party planner brother of Edward, is pure Marc-Francis from Made In Chelsea. There are some joyous moments of real-life situations that fit the novel perfectly and Trollope has clearly enjoyed updating the novel. The rewrite of Willoughby’s past turns him from being a mere libertine to something much more sinister and, quite frankly, he needed it.
However, as wonderful as Austenites may find Trollope’s dedication to the original, I think the decision to stick to it so closely is the novel’s ultimate undoing. It was always going to be a tricky task to update a novel in which everything revolves around love and marriage. The world of country houses, inheritances and marriages as a necessity just doesn’t exist in the same way it did in Austen’s time. Women of 2013 have so many options and the idea that three intelligent and capable women would be unable to cope on their own is frankly ludicrous. Elinor aside, the women flounder when it comes to financial independence and, for some undefined reason, are unable to seek work. Trollope’s novel is full of problems arising that simply wouldn’t be as much of an issue today and it takes a great deal of suspension of your disbelief to stick with it. Rather than feeling like a modern novel this feels like a novel of the 1800s that has been badly transferred into a modern setting. It’s strange and jarring as you move deeper into the narrative. In order to make this exercise seem worthwhile Trollope needed to take a few more risks.
At one stage in the novel, and in a failed moment of self-awareness, Mrs Jennings is accused of having the attitude one would normally find in a 19th century novel where a girl’s only ambition is to marry. Her response is: “people pretend things have changed, but have they, really?” Trollope may be trying to convince us that they haven’t but, if Sense & Sensibility has taught us anything, it’s that they most certainly have.