Northanger Abbey – Val McDermid

In third year, I took a Jane Austen course. It was delightful (I recommend any English lit course with Dr. King who is basically a legend), and I came away from it thinking “Pride and Prejudice is great, but I like Persuasion and Northanger Abbey better.”

This week, I read a modernized “retelling” of Northanger Abbey.

“Cat Morland is ready to grow up. A homeschooled minister’s daughter in the quaint, sheltered Piddle Valley in Dorset, she loses herself in novels and is sure there is a glamorous adventure awaiting her beyond the valley’s narrow horizon. So imagine her delight when the Allens, neighbours and friends of her parents, invite her to attend the Edinburgh Festival as their guest. Armed with a sunny personality, show tickets every night and a few key wardrobe additions, Cat begins to take Edinburgh by storm and is taken into the bosom of the Thorpe family, particularly by eldest daughter Bella. And then there’s the handsome Henry Tilney, an up-and-coming lawyer whose family home is the beautiful and forbidding Northanger Abbey. Cat is entranced by Henry and his charming sister Eleanor, but she can’t help wondering if everything about them is as perfect as it seems. Or has she just been reading too many novels? A delectable, note-perfect modern update of the Jane Austen classic, Northanger Abbey tells a timeless story of innocence amid cynicism, the exquisite angst of young love, and the value of friendship.”

First, let’s talk about the things I loved:

-It took place in Edinburgh. I’ve never been to their Festival (though I would love to go), but I’ve been to the city so it was relatively easy to imagine.

-Henry Tilney has always been my favourite Austen-hero*(since taking that course a few years ago), so imagining him with a Scottish accent made him absurdly attractive in my head.

*This might be because I loved him in the 2007 movie. He was wonderful.

-Catherine Morland is a fantastic heroine because – no matter which version – I can relate to her: a bookworm who prefers fiction to reality and has a hard time separating the two aka a synopsis of my life.

-The fictional “Hebridean Harpies” series, which I wish was real because they sound fabulous and I would read them so flippin’ fast.

-I could still feel the Austen vibe, despite the modernized language and plot elements.

Things I didn’t like:

-Apart from the “Hebridean Harpies” books, the only other book Cat constantly referenced was Twilight. On one page she compared the sleek interior of Northanger Abbey to the Cullens’ home, but then 20-30 pages later, she made almost the exact same reference. Because we all know Twilight is the only young adult vampire series to exist in the entire world. *rolls eyes*

-Bella and John Thorpe…though to be fair, I hated them in the original too. There were some Bella moments that brought back bad memories of a failed friendship so I was impressed about how realistic she was (and also a little discomfited).

-I don’t want to sound condescending or ageist or anything, but I’ve noticed that when authors of an older generation write in the “younger” voice, they ALWAYS use stereotypes. Their characters always text in abbreviations (that I can barely understand because I never used them myself); they always have to mention social media in multiple forms (i.e. “Don’t worry, you can check Twitter and Facebook later” “I’ll be on Twitter and Facebook all the time” “No wifi means I can’t check Twitter and Facebook”); and the pop culture references are always (I’m going to sound like such a hipster, I’m so sorry) mainstream (such as the aforementioned obsession with Twilight). It might just be a personal pet peeve, though.

I’m not sure what category this retelling falls into (it could technically be YA, but because it’s a classic, is it considered something else?), but I did really enjoy it. If you’re a fan of the original, I definitely recommend it.

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One thought on “Northanger Abbey – Val McDermid

  1. I recently read this book too, i got annoyed with the stereotype as well. The abbreviations were terrible, i dont think anyone talks like that. Well, I mean I hope no one actually uses that much abbreviation. And the social media… ugh. I completely understand you. :) definitely a pet peeve for me too.

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