“You’re stuck with yourself, so you might as well try and be someone you can stand to live with.”
Joanna Trollope, Sense & Sensibility (2013)
I really, really wanted to love this book. Most books you start with the hope they will entertain you, perhaps challenge you to look at things differently. I wanted this book to enrapture me the way the original book did, and perhaps that was never going to happen because no one will ever write Austen like Austen.
The Austen Project is challenging six contemporary authors to re-imagine Jane Austen’s classic novels. Modernising such well-known, well-loved classics must be difficult. The scandals that would have irreparably tarnished a reputation in Austen’s days would be little more than a blip in contemporary society. It was interesting to see how Trollope played with elements of the story to deal with this – Belle never actually married Henry Dashwood, Colonel Brandon owns a rehabilitation centre for injured soldiers and Eleanor supports her family by getting a job at an architecture firm- but I didn’t feel there was as much at stake for the characters in the 21st century.
I couldn’t get on board with Willoughby being ‘Wills’. He felt a little two-dimensional in some respects as the wealthy young man desperate for wealth and recklessly driving around in a sports car. He seemed little more than a boy-racer and I felt there was more to him than that. I had similar reservations about other characters. Austen created such vibrant characters and they seemed a little less colourful. Eleanor, who next to Anne in Persuasion, is my favourite Austen heroine felt out of reach. It was like hearing her thoughts without any emotion being attached to them. Eleanor doesn’t let her feelings show, but I think she could have been allowed to express this more internally.
Despite my reservations I did find it an interesting read, and got through it in a few sittings. I would like to see how the other participating authors measure up.