Review of ‘Northanger Abbey’ by Val McDermid

Available from HarperCollins here.

Are you familiar, Dear Reader, with the Austen Project whereby six famous authors have been commissioned to write modern versions of Jane Austen’s novels?  I wasn’t, until I saw a mention of Val McDermid’s version of ‘Northanger Abbey’ in FictionFan’s book reviews a few months ago.  I’m afraid the book languished on my Kindle for a little while, until I picked it up last week, and, DR, I was hardly able to put it down until I finished it, even though I had largely forgotten the real thing.

Val McDermid renames the mc as Cat Morland and brings her to the Edinburgh Festival (instead of Bath) and into the age of Facebook, Twitter and mobile phones, very convincingly and effectively.  She makes Cat a very convincing seventeen year old, gushing, over the top and gullible, vulnerable yet increasingly savvy as the story progresses.  Henry Tilney is the complete opposite, sensible and reliable, in a proper job (a barrister in pupilage) and such a safe driver – middle-aged before his time, a mother-in-law’s delight, with none of the distant, arrogant charm of Darcy.  I liked him – obviously – but then I’m not seventeen.  Cat also had her occasional National Trust moments, with a predilection for looking around grand houses – and a weakness for coffee and dainty cakes – a true NT member in the making!

Val worked very hard in sticking to the original as far as possible, making characters dance obsessively (Scottish dancing, obviously, given the setting) and concerned about becoming engaged and married – very Jane Austen. Such a contrast to the nineteenth century’s and twentieth century’s proccupation with love and the twenty-first century’s with sex.  This feels odd, frequently, and, as I start to read Alexander McCall Smith’s ‘Emma’, I pick up the same constraints.  Another irritation was that, after expending a lot of words on Edinburgh, Val condensed into just one chapter Catherine/Cat’s pursuit of Gothic goings on at Northanger Abbey, even though this is, after all, the main thrust of Miss Austen’s version.   But I still couldn’t stop reading, largely because of the lively characterisation, eventful plotting and easy-going writing style.  The book finished well, with a blast which was shocking, puzzling and riveting, although the reveal at the very end did come about very suddenly.

The other books in the Austen Project are:

  • ‘Emma’ by Alexander McCall Smith
  • ‘Sense and Sensibility’ by Joanna Trolloppe
  • ‘Pride & Prejudice’ by Curtis Sittenfeld (not yet published)
  • I also understand that ‘Persuasion’ and ‘Mansfield Park’ will be attempted, but I have no details, not even of authors.
So, DR, would I recommend Val McDermid’s ‘Northanger Abbey’?  Yes, definitely.
Iona Abbey
By StaraBlazkova (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
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6 thoughts on “Review of ‘Northanger Abbey’ by Val McDermid

  1. Thanks for the link! 🙂 Glad you enjoyed this one too – I thought Val McDermid handled it very well, and some of the humour was brilliant. I loved her updated names for the ‘horrid novels’, and the descriptions of the Edinburgh Book Fair were a highlight for me – McDermid was clearly writing from experience!

    I’ll be intrigued to hear what you make of Emma – hmm! Didn’t quite have the same effect on me as this one…

  2. I’m not really keen on reworkings of old classics. If just a few elements of the original are used it can work well, but forcing a modern character to act in the same way as historical ones often feels awkward and unbelievable.

  3. I was looking for new “reading inspiration”…something quirky and different, just before I get back to work and absolute “time- lessness”…this might just be it.

    1. Thanks for congrats. Sadly, that was as far as it went. Congratulations to Lori Windsor Mohr who won the Alfie Dog International Short Story comp.

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