As I wasn't planning on actually reading any real Austen, I thought it would be fun to do a couple of related works, starting with Juliet Archer's retelling of one of my favourite novels for my first readathon book, The Importance of Being Emma.
Emma Woodhouse (along with Elizabeth Bennett) is arguably the most contemporary of Jane Austen's heroines; her beauty, intelligence and strong personality is easily translatable to the career woman of 21st Century. Ms Archer has set Emma in the world of gourmet foods. She is the new marketing director of Highbury Traditional Foods, her father's business, a role one infers may have been devised and arranged by the lady herself. She is 23, has just graduated from Harvard and is set to drag the company, kicking and screaming into the modern world of online shopping. To help her gain hands on experience, her father engages Mark Knightley to be her new mentor; longtime family friend, brother-in-law and old schoolgirl crush. The story mostly follows the original with one or two significant detours. She acquires a new PA, trashy temp Harriet Smith, has to put up with the ever talkative Mary Bates, her father's assistant, is intrigued by the elusive Flynn Churchill, a celebrity chef from Australia, and gets frustrated with Jane Fairfax, an intern she considers her nemesis.
The irony of the new setting was rather amusing given Mr Woodhouse's love for thin gruel in the original. The characters mostly stayed intact although 'Gusty', Elton's new squeeze, was possibly less annoying than her predecessor. This is not a serious book. It is a complete mystery to me how Oscar Wilde got involved in the title. Did someone get confused about which retell it was??
My version was an ebook which took merely a few hours to complete at a very easy pace. It is published by Choc Lit, which probably should have been my first indication. I have since seen a cover that gave away the rest of the clues.
This is pure chick lit fluff of the romance variety, from the blurb to the unexpected amount of sex in the plot. It isn't really that graphic but don't say I didn't warn you.
I have previously read the next Austen retelling by the same author (Persuade Me) and had thoroughly enjoyed it, but this was a great disappointment. It could have taken more risks and veered further from the original to make the story fresh and less offensive. Instead, there were differences that did not make sense and did not ring true. Worse still, the charm of the characters were diminished. The main pull for me in Emma was how well all the characters were constructed by the incomparable Miss Austen. It took me years to come to love snobby manipulative Emma but saw exactly why the perfect hero, Mr Knightley, loved her so. It took the first page in the new book for me to go back to disliking Emma, and ye gads, even Mark Knightley has slipped many notches down the hero scale! To recover from this first misstep, I was compelled to watch Clueless, the adorable 90's movie by Amy Heckerling to see how a modern Emma can be done right.
1 Highbury Hamper out of 5. "It was badly done, indeed!"
Next book: Anna Karenina.....