How did it happen? Two major causes, really:
1) I happened to stumble across a promo for Alexander McCall Smith’s retelling of Emma several months ago, soon after reading (finally!) The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. I’d been planning on checking out more of AMS’s books, and thought this sounded like great fun.
2) I’ve gotten hooked on audiobooks in the last year or so. I listen to them during my daily commute, and I’ve become really addicted to doing my weekend walks with a bookish soundtrack.
So, I thought I’d like to read the new Emma, but realized that I should probably re-read the original first, since it’s been many a year since I first read it. Audiobook to the rescue! I listened to Emma as narrated by Juliet Stevenson, and thought it was simply brilliant! Juliet Stevenson is a remarkable audiobook reader, giving such personality to all the characters. And the story itself! It just cracked me up. I hadn’t remembered Emma as being quite so funny, but trust me on this one — given the times I started laughing in public while plugged into my IPod listening to this book (and the number of bizarre looks I got), it’s definitely got some hilarious moments.
Moving on, I decided that I needed to know more about The Austen Project, which was conceived several years ago as a major publishing to-do. The concept? Invite contemporary fiction writers to re-write Jane Austen’s classic novels, setting them in modern times and giving them a new spin while remaining faithful to the original. I suppose the point is to show the timelessness of Austen’s works.
To date, there have been three books published as part of The Austen Project:
- Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope
- Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid
- Emma by Alexander McCall Smith
Supposedly, the next book to be issued as part of the project is Pride and Prejudice, written by Curtis Sittenfeld, although I haven’t found a firm release date yet. Apparently, Persuasion and Mansfield Park have yet to be assigned.
(And also, apparently, The Austen Project has not been all that enthusiastically received, so perhaps the remaining books are being “shelved”, so to speak? I haven’t found anything to indicate future plans, one way or another.)
For me and my year of Austen, I haven’t quite made it to any of the re-tellings yet, although I now have the three books ready and waiting — and once I read them, I’ll be sure to share my thoughts. Meanwhile, having the modern versions on hand has definitely piqued my interest in re-reads. Hence, the audiobooks.
So far, I’ve listened to Emma and Northanger Abbey, and am now in the early chapters of Sense and Sensibility. The audiobooks are awesome, yo. I’m so completely enraptured by Juliet Stevenson’s ability to give voice to each character in a way that’s fresh and easy to identify, plus the way she infuses the lines with such snark and humor is just amazing.
Once I finish with the Austen Project books, I do believe I’ll keep going with my Austen mania. I’ve been wanting to revisit Persuasion for quite some time now. And to be honest, while I’m almost completely sure that I’ve read all of Jane Austen’s books, some niggling doubt is telling me that maybe I only think I’ve read Mansfield Park. I do have a battered old paperback on my shelf, and it certainly looks read. But then again, I know that I’ve seen the movie… no, no, I’m really 99% sure that I’ve read the book… I think.
In any case, I’ll be continuing on with Austen audiobooks all year. And meanwhile, I haven’t even scratched the surface of my Austen movie collection! First up, I think, will be Emma and then Clueless for contrast. (And – PS – it’s the 20th anniversary of the release of Clueless! Feeling old yet?)
Then onward… so many options!
And after all, there’s really never a bad time to re-watch Bride and Prejudice.