“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.
Prepare to meet a young woman who thinks she knows everything
Fresh from university, Emma Woodhouse arrives home in Norfolk ready to embark on adult life with a splash. Not only has her sister, Isabella, been whisked away on a motorbike to London, but her astute governess, Miss Taylor is at a loose end watching as Mr. Woodhouse worries about his girls. Someone is needed to rule the roost and young Emma is more than happy to oblige.
At the helm of her own dinner parties, and often found either rearranging the furniture at the family home of Hartfield, or instructing her new protégée, Harriet Smith, Emma is in charge. You don’t have to be in London to go to parties, find amusement or make trouble.
Not if you’re Emma, the very big fish in the rather small pond.
But for someone who knows everything, Emma doesn’t know her own heart. And there is only one person who can play with Emma’s indestructible confidence, her friend and inscrutable neighbour George Knightly – this time has Emma finally met her match?
Ever alive to the social comedy of village life, beloved author Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma is the busybody we all know and love, and a true modern delight.
Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma is the latest volume related to The Austen Project, which pairs up popular contemporary authors with the classic works of Jane Austen.
Austen’s Emma is one of my favorites. I mean, I truly LOL’d over Emma as I listened to the audiobook earlier this year (which can be rather embarrassing when out in public wearing earphones.)
In this retelling, Emma is a college graduate who is thinking about starting her own interior decorating business, but in reality doesn’t have to do much, as her dear dad, Mr. Woodhouse, is more than happy to support Emma indefinitely — in between worrying about health, weather, and every possible hazard that could come their way. The various village residents are here, mostly true to the original, including the chatty Miss Bates and the snobbish but boring Mr. Elton.
Mr. Woodhouse gets many of the best lines, with his obsessive health worries:
“It will be good for them to get out of London and get some country air. All those people in London breathing the air in and out; just think of it, Emma. Just think of all that breathing going on in London — it’s a wonder there’s any air left for the rest of us.”
Emma gets many wry and silly moments too, such as:
“Look at the moon,” she said. “So bright. So lunar!” She had to say something.
And another gem:
Emma thought that this conversation would be a difficult one to conduct with anybody other than Harriet, with anybody … less beautiful. Somehow, beauty made a difference; a trite remark uttered by a beautiful person is not quite as trite as the same thing said by one less blessed.
Overall, the book is enjoyable, although the storyline perhaps just doesn’t work all that well in a modern setting. It feels at times as though the author is bending over backwards to figure out how to incorporate the socials calls, dinner parties, and picnics that are so crucial in Jane Austen’s world. This new Emma is certainly less detailed, so I felt that I didn’t get to know the characters particularly well, and even Emma herself doesn’t really hold the center stage position she should. Mr. Knightly is more or less a background character for much of the story, and he just doesn’t seem like a viable romantic interest for Emma, except that that’s the way it has to be in order to retain Austen’s plotlines.
Austen fans will probably enjoy this new telling of Emma, but it’s certainly no replacement for reading the original! But if you’re looking for a light read that takes a familiar story and gives it a new spin, this is a fun diversion, and the language is witty enough to give you a few laughs along the way.
Author: Alexander McCall Smith
Publication date: April 7, 2015
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction/classics retelling