Day 519: Northanger Abbey

Cover for Northanger AbbeyNorthanger Abbey seems to be the Austen novel people like least. Perhaps this is because Catherine Morland is an ordinary girl, naive and not overly bright, so the opportunity for witty conversation is lost. But Austen has some fun with the fad for Gothic novels at the time. One of young Catherine’s misadventures results from her dreaming up a lurid past for her new friends’ family, her imagination influenced by her choice of reading. Austen also creates some broadly comic characters in the greedy and crass Isabella and John Thorpe.

When I learned that Val McDermid was attempting an update, I was intrigued, because McDermid is better known for her chilling thrillers. She places her updated version of the novel in Edinburgh during the festival. This could have been an inspired choice if she had made more use of the setting.

Cat Morland is attending the festival as the guest of her neighbors, the wealthy Allens. She meets Bella Thorpe, who befriends her because she likes Cat’s brother James (although this is not of course obvious to Cat). Bella’s brother John in turn begins pursuing Cat. Cat, though, is already interested in Henry Tilney, son of General Tilney, the owner of Northanger Abbey.

Much of the plot of Austen’s original book rides on the Thorpes’ assumption that Catherine is the Allens’ heir. McDermid implies a similar motive for their friendliness.

McDermid has not changed the plot of Austen’s novel in any major respect, except for the reason why General Tilney throws Cat out of the house in the middle of the night. In that instance, she chooses to pursue a theme that has been cropping up a lot in her later fiction, and the choice is unfortunate. She has set us up to expect something else, and the motive she chooses doesn’t fit in well with anything that has already happened. It is clear that General Tilney is unusually friendly with Cat because he thinks she is wealthy, so to alter the reason for this dramatic scene at the last moment throws us off.

Although the novel seems promising at first, with some witty observations about the festival attendees, we soon fall into the banalities of conversation and texts between vapid young women. Cat just loves vampire fiction and actually believes vampires might exist. You can see where this might lead in terms of the original novel, if McDermid had given it a bit of a twist. I am sick of vampire fiction, but I was almost hoping one would appear in the darkness of an Edinburgh street.

http://www.netgalley.comCat and the Tilney siblings are likable, but Cat doesn’t capture my sympathy as much in her current guise. Again, I’ll stick with Austen.

Just as a side note, those wily internet marketers must have noticed my searches for Northanger Abbey, because I got an email about the Complete Northanger Horrid Novel Collection. This collection includes all of the gothic novels referred to in Austen’s novel. All mine on my iPad for a mere $.99! Well, why not? I’ll be reporting back later.



10 thoughts on “Day 519: Northanger Abbey

  1. Alina (literaryvittles) May 13, 2014 / 12:26 pm

    I find that these “updated” versions of classic novels usually aren’t much good. But some good news: I got my hands on a $2 paperback copy of “Emma” at the library book sale! The Horrid Novel Collection also sounds intriguing.

    • whatmeread May 13, 2014 / 12:28 pm

      Well, I think that Bridget Jones Diary was quite enjoyable, but I have to agree that most of the others aren’t worth it. I only read McDermid’s and Trollope’s because I have read a lot of their novels and often enjoyed them (although McDermid has definitely not been as good lately as she used to be).

  2. Naomi May 13, 2014 / 12:44 pm

    I’ve never heard of these updated versions of books. I did like Northanger Abbey, though. It was the first Jane Austen novel I read, and it made me want more of her!

    • whatmeread May 13, 2014 / 12:45 pm

      I like it, too, but I keep reading that many people either don’t like it or speak of it as their least favorite Austen book.

  3. Cecilia May 13, 2014 / 12:56 pm

    I need to re-read Jane Austen though I think I also remember liking Northanger Abbey. That is too funny that you ended up getting the gothic collection! What a deal! 🙂

    • whatmeread May 13, 2014 / 1:06 pm

      Yeah, I don’t know if I’ll like them. My experience with The Castle of Otranto in high school was not that much fun, but I have wondered about some of them over the years, because they’re referred to often in fiction, particularly when someone is reading a romance in a piece of historical fiction. And at 99 cents for 9 of them, how can you lose?

  4. Ariel Price May 13, 2014 / 10:33 pm

    Too bad… this is a really interesting idea, though! I definitely fall into the category of people who didn’t care for Northanger Abbey. Or was it Mansfield Park? …I don’t remember.

    • whatmeread May 14, 2014 / 7:33 am

      It wasn’t horrible, it just didn’t add much to the original. I was liking it okay until the fatal plot change. I know they’re doing this Jane Austen Project, of which this book was a part, but so far I haven’t read one that gives me a good idea of why they’re doing it. The best Austen update so far is still Bridget Jones’ Diary.

  5. Map of Time May 14, 2014 / 10:39 am

    Aw what a pity. I really enjoyed Austen’s Northanger Abbey.

    • whatmeread May 14, 2014 / 10:40 am

      I may have been a little too harsh. I liked the book well enough until she changed the ending. If I’d been able to rate it on Goodreads with a half star, I would have given it 2 1/2.

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