Happy Memorial Day weekend! The unofficial kickoff to summer! The green of the brand new leaves in May is my absolute favorite green. It’s invigorating to see it in all the trees.
And, because I am married to a vet I’m not losing sight of the reason for the season, which is to honor the fallen.
I usually spend Memorial Weekend with my parents because they are up for the summer, and I get another writing instruction session Monday morning because I have the time and its not actually a holiday in South Africa, where my writing instructor lives. I need that time with her, as I hammered out a second draft in a month and there are lingering pot holes that I thought of after I emailed it to her and she said let her see what she can do. Because writing instructors are wholly magic people!
This week’s classic retelling is not a book that needed any redemption. Not only due to how I read it the first time, but it deserves mention: I have the Jane Austen omnibus from Barnes and Noble, back in the pre e-reader days when I was collecting classics and actually paying money for them. The giant book with the tissue thin pages with the eensy print to fit it all on the pages. I read this one on my loveseat on a second story glassed in porch during a rainy spring weekend and reveled in my solitude. I was renting two rooms in a house in Poughkeepsie, I was in my graduate internship, I was not constantly hammering out graduate work nor tending to a long term relationship in my immediate space. I just read a classic novel over the weekend, because I could. It was the beginning of a glorious space in my life where my time was neither consumed with endless graduate work or the wonderful but endless responsibility of motherhood. When I need time to myself I look wistfully back on that weekend as the paragon of what I once had. That and there was also a funny day trip to Ikea with my close friends where we spent hours in the store and were so tired when we were leaving that we laughed uncontrollably when we briefly lost the driving friend in the parking garage and couldn’t really understand why it was so funny.
But the book…well, I guess the book was good too. *insert tongue in cheek here*
Northanger Abbey, Val McDermid (The Austen Project #2)
Like I said when I reviewed Eligible, it is a tall order to ask established writers to go in for a Jane Austen retelling, and not only that, to make them more accessible to today’s teens. The ratings suggest that this is another layer people just won’t go in for. I can’t even find a suggestion of Persuasion or Mansfield Park even having authors chosen for them online, the last Austen Project updates I can find being for Eligible in 2014/2015. There’s no hard evidence that the project has been canned, but I am losing optimism that it will be completed.
Also, I cheated a little and listened to the radio dramatization of the original first just to freshen up on major plot points. I remember the rain and the love seat and the paper thin pages and a couple of my beefs with the story but I felt I would do better with the retelling with a rehash first.
So, I liked this. I liked that she is going to Scotland to be in the theater and social scene there. It is more fun than the original. I wanted to know how she was going to pull off the Gothic novel obsession in a modern context and I almost thought Catherine would be really into TV, but I felt her choice of vampire novels and then comparing the Tilneys to Edward and his clan in Twilight (although she is never that explicit, I read Twilight to catch every reference) was a good one. Especially since the few minutes of the movies that I have been able to sit through have been kind of atmospheric in a Pacific Northwest kind of way which could be similar to Scotland’s, although I have been neither place. Sadly. So, well done.
(A brief sidebar: Someone put the collection of the original Gothic novels mentioned in Northanger Abbey on Amazon, Northanger Horrid Novels, complete with Radcliffe. I read The Mysteries of Udolpho because of this book and someday I will read the other Gothic novels in the collection. You know how I love my Gothic reads)
I also liked that the reason Catherine gets randomly cast out makes more sense in the modern world and is more fitting to a teenager’s understanding. There are fortune hunting characters but we are not such in a fortune hunting world anymore. Parents have considerations for their children that can extend past money and I am glad she did something else with that.
I wish that Catherine Morland had been made a little older, as seventeen was a respectable age to get a husband back in the day but now it’s just barely legal for consent (at least in NY) and the age difference between couples at this age needs to be smaller to not be creepy. Like, who can’t love Henry Tilney, but I don’t know anyone who is getting started after law school that would develop more than friendship feelings for a 17 year old who really knows nothing of the world. They would not have enough in common to really develop a relationship. We are no longer in that time period where being completely naive is an attractive quality in men looking for a life partner and an equal rather than a wife. I know she has to be naive in the story to make it work, but there can be too much in order to make the couple seem implausible, which is what is happening here. I guess maybe I also spend more time with 17 year olds than many other people.
But there was one change to the relationship that she made that I did like. It still eludes me why Jane Austen saw fit in the original to comment that Henry only marries Catherine out of gratitude and because she loved him first. I don’t know why they couldn’t just love each other. I felt badly for Catherine in the end because she was being married somewhat against the Captain’s wishes and then only because her husband was grateful. In this one they really do just love each other, even though I feel that she should have been made a little older to help.
Like I said, it is a tall order to work on the Austen Project and the more I read them the more this becomes apparent. I can better respect the challenge that McDermid was up against.
So, I am reading more retellings, because I love them, mixed in with the BookRiot challenges. Rolling into summer and seeing if I need to space out the posts like I did last summer because I am busier in the season I can actually go places.
And the second draft of my novel is done? I started writing in late January. I feel good about that, even if my brains are on the blink because I am making them do all the things.