Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid

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Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid was written as part of the Austen Project, where contemporary authors re-write Jane Austen’s six major novels. This author is well known for her crime novels, which are very good.

I quite enjoyed Val McDermid’s version of Northanger Abbey, but I did finish the book feeling slightly disappointed, as I always do after reading Jane Austen tribute novels, or sequels or whatever they are called. Nobody writes Jane Austen like Jane Austen. Still, I keep picking these novels up because I’m not ready to let go of my favourite author.

This version of Northanger Abbey is set in Scotland in the present time. Cat Morland, a 17 year old, home schooled, would-be-heroine, goes to Edinburgh for the festival with her wealthy neighbours, the Allens. In a whirlwind of social engagements, Cat meets and becomes besties with Bella Thorpe, who is keen on Cat’s brother, James. Bella wants Cat to fall in love with her brother Johnny, however Cat is already sweet on Henry Tilney, a young lawyer.

Cat becomes friends with Henry’s sister Ellie, both of whom appear to be bullied by their widowed father, General Tilney.

Really, I don’t know why I am telling you all of this. The story is the same as Jane Austen’s, just set in the present time. The characters have Facebook and mobile phones. Cat’s reading of choice features vampires, zombies and werewolves. Cat and Bella use expressions such as OMG and LOL. The faults and failings and the good points of the characters haven’t changed since the original Northanger Abbey. Cat is naïve and Ellie is sweet. Bella Thorpe is still a young woman on the make and her brother Johnny remains a jerk.

However, I have the same problem with Val McDermid’s version of events that I do with Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Why would a young man, specifically Henry Tilney, who is a lawyer, fall in love with and remain in love with, a 17 year old girl? I think the age differences and intellectual differences between Catherine and Henry are too great for their relationship to work in real life. I can understand Henry’s initial interest in Cat’s pretty face and her lovely personality, but at some time in the future, he is going to be bored stupid with her. And then what? In Jane Austen’s time they would politely have lived separate lives, with Henry finding his amusement elsewhere, but in the present time, Henry would eventually move on and Cat’s heart will be been broken.

Regardless of my fault finding with the plot, I did enjoy this novel and would recommend it to fellow Janeites. In future though, I would prefer to read a Val McDermid crime novel though than her re-telling someone else’s story.

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