Book Review: Northanger Abbey

If you haven’t been keeping up with The Austen Project then allow me to debrief you (dirty). The series is spearheaded by popular authors and features re-imaginings of Austen’s originals. I was lucky enough to get a chance to read Val McDermid’s interpretation of Northanger Abbey via Netgalley.

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In this modern interpretation Cat Morland gets a modern makeover. The tomboy with her head-in-the-clouds gets whisked off to the Edinburgh Book Festival and runs into a “wolfish” Henry Tilney. Instead of the gothic romance fantasy of the original, Cat begins convincing herself that Henry is a vampire, relying on the paranormal romance novels she loves to read as evidence. Along the way she gets immersed in the festival community by Bella Thorpe, who we learn is out for money from her very first conversation with Cat.

I’m on the fence about this interpretation. I think it made perfect sense to use paranormal romance as the modern gothic romance, but I felt that that overall plotline fell short. I know that Cat is a teenager enthralled with fantasy and therefore a little more apt to believing the unnatural is natural, but the vampiric nods didn’t seem consistent or convincing. I think it serves as a great device to show Cat’s growth and awakening to her own immaturity, but it doesn’t take center stage until later on and therefore felt a little lacking and hurried.

I enjoyed the drama and intrigue around the festival and the incorporation of modern apps and gadgets into character interactions. Cat looks up Henry’s profile on Facebook and Bella posts photos of her fabulous excursions constantly. Johnny Thorpe likes fast cars and Ellie Tilney has aspirations for art school. I think the women in this book are able to have much more agency than in Austen’s, simply because of the time in which it is set. Ellie and Cat are not limited to the income their husbands will provide for them and education becomes more important to the story as the women discuss their futures. Cat is often reduced to a ditzy, dreamy girl in social interactions, but we see from her internal dialogues and her constant reading that she is actually intelligent and thoughtful.

As a novel interpretation (ha) this is creative and fantastical. As satire this doesn’t quite make it.

I recommend this for anyone who likes a good adaptation or who had a hard time digesting the original.

Northanger Abbey (The Borough Press) by Val McDermid to be released March 27, 2014.

-Admin B is a journalist, filmmaker and nerd.

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