Warning! This review may involve wailing and gnashing of teeth, not to mention cursing…of both kinds. Persons of a sensitive disposition may wish to look away now. And on the assumption that no-one will be interested in this who doesn’t know the original, there are some mild spoilers…
The Austen Project is a strange little idea to rewrite all the Austen novels for a modern age. Why? It certainly can’t be because the originals are unreadable – I’d imagine they are more popular today than they have ever been. One can only assume they see it as a money-spinner. I’m delighted to say I got this book free – and even then it was too expensive.
My recent review of the real Sense and Sensibility highlighted that I think it deserves its place as a classic because of the light it casts on the restricted lives and opportunities of the sons and daughters of the ‘gentry’ in Jane Austen’s time. This fake S&S concentrates on the same class, but is set in the present day. Unfortunately, society has changed so much that the premise doesn’t work. In order to make the story fit into today’s England – where opportunity for the middle-classes is almost infinite, where women are freer and more equal than they have ever been and where the norm is for people without money to do that revolutionary thing and get a job – Trollope has decided to make most of the characters completely feckless and thus entirely unsympathetic.
He gave an almost imperceptible smirk. ‘The obigations of the heir…’
‘Oh my God,’ Marianne exclaimed. ‘Are you the heir to Allenham?’
‘So fortunate,’ Belle said dazedly.
Marianne’s eyes were shining.
‘So romantic,’ she said.
The story begins with the Dashwood family losing their home at Norland. Not because it’s entailed – oh, no! Because Mr Dashwood never bothered to marry Mrs Dashwood (Belle, heaven help us!) and so his great-uncle left the house to his legitimate nephew rather than his illegitimate nieces. Already I’m wondering what society this reflects? Certainly not the one I live in, which stopped giving a…fig…about legitimacy back sometime in the seventies and where even the crown is now allowed to pass down the female line. To make it work, Trollope has had to make it overly complex and unbelievable…and we’re only at Chapter 1.
So the poor Dashwoods, with only £200,000 and a modern cottage given to them by other rich relatives, have to face up to living within straitened means. Why? Has the concept of going to work never occurred to any of them? Poor Elinor has to give up Uni. Why? Can’t she get a student loan and live in a bedsit like everyone else? To be fair, she does get her rich relatives to pull strings to get her a job. But the rest whine endlessly about lack of money making me want to a) hit them collectively over the head with a brick and b) explain that living in a four-bedroom cottage, running a car and popping up to London every weekend to go to parties isn’t really poverty!
Then we have Marianne (M!) – in this version a hysterical maniac, rather than the overly emotional but sweet and loving girl of the original. Suffering from constant asthma attacks (presumably because when we get a cold these days, we just take paracetemol and get on with it), she spends her time wheezing, gasping, sobbing, throwing tantrums and being revoltingly rude to everyone, and yet being so lovely throughout that no man can withstand her (invisible) charm. To explain this strange anomaly, Trollope tells us approximately 15,000 times that M is stunningly gorgeous, even whilst receiving Intensive Care. I shall brush quietly past the sex episode…
Shall I tell you about Wills(!)? Of course, single motherhood tends not to lead to death these days, so how does Ms Trollope resolve this conundrum and ensure that we understand that he’s a bad lot? Well, by making Wills, (who’s not just the ‘hottest boy in the county’, by the way, but a complete ‘shagbandit’ – charming) into a drug-pusher! Yes, little Eliza is a junkie…
Pah! I can’t bear to talk about this monstrosity any longer. I will leave you to imagine whingy Ellie, pathetic Ed, and Mags, the nightmare teenager with an iThing habit. I will ignore the fact that all the married women stay at home to look after their children. I will pretend I didn’t notice that we now have a Wills, a Harry and – yep, that’s right – the Middletons. I won’t even mention the youtube ‘trolling’ incident…and I refuse to think about the gay party-planner, Robert Ferrars, and his marriage of convenience…
‘One hundred parties in the last year!’ Mrs Jennings said. ‘Incredible. That’s one party every three nights that wouldn’t have happened without him!’
‘Too silly,’ Lucy said, looking straight at Elinor. ‘Brainless. My poor Ed must be cringing.’
‘Amaze,’ Nancy said from the sofa. ‘Amazeballs.’
Elinor took a step back.
‘Well, I suppose it’s good to be good at something.’
A fake book that tells us nothing authentic about today’s society – might work as a fluffy romance (except aren’t you supposed to like the heroines in them?) but doesn’t work as a serious novel, isn’t funny enough to be a comedy and is an insult rather than an homage to a great classic. Read at your peril…
NB This book was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK.