May 232016

Northanger AbbeyModern-Day Carbon Copy

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Source: Purchased

TYPE OF AUSTENESQUE NOVEL: Modern Adaptation of Northanger Abbey

SETTING: Dorset, England and Edinburgh and Borders in Scotland


  • It’s the Austen Project!: 6 best-selling contemporary authors are tackling and updating the 6 major works of Jane Austen! And I haven’t read any of them yet!
  • NA Won: In the vote I held at the beginning of the month, Northanger Abbey was the most voted for option, over Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope. But aside from that, Northanger Abbey inspired novels are definitely scarce and I’m always wanting to read more!


  • Plausible Recreation: All the characters were updated to our modern world and easily recognized. Cat is a seventeen-year-old homeschooled student who has never left her home county, which appropriately made her inexperienced, innocent, and trusting. Bella was the insincere friend who was wild for vampire novels and male attention, John Thorpe was obsessed about his car and often talked nonsense, and the Tilney family was reserved and mysterious. While these updates weren’t the most creative or inventive, they were believable and translated well.
  • Culture Fest on the Fringe: The Allens invite Cat to come spend a month with them in Ediburgh while they attend the Festival and sample a variety of performances and events. What a magnificent treat for Cat, I would gladly like to be in shoes! One woman shows, viewings, talks, and author signings – I enjoyed hearing about all the events they attended and would have loved even more time spent describing them.
  • Take Me to England: Quaint country villages, a bustling historic city alive with entertainments and society, and charming Scottish squares near Gothic abbeys– it was lovely to be surrounded by sites, sounds, and descriptions of all these intriguing and scenic locales. In addition, I love learning some new British expressions such as “chuffed,” “skint,” “clever clogs.” It was great to be back in the UK!


  • Formulaic: This story felt like an exact modern-day mirroring of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Every part of the story was there – the characters, the plot elements, the conflicts – all translated to our world…even when it sometimes felt forced. When I read modern-day adaptations of Jane Austen novels, I often find myself praising the author’s work as clever and original. I love looking for their creative parallels, subtle nods, and unique twists. I could not do that with this story. It wasn’t clever at all…it was a carbon copy of Jane Austen’s work and for what I could tell didn’t include any of the author’s own sparkle or imagination.
  • Disappointing Developments: Since Cat loves her some vampire stories, she of course assumes that the Tilneys might be vampires (you know, because they have pale complexions, didn’t eat a lot that one time, and opted to not go for a walk on a very hot and sunny day.) I know this was a very plausible translation for Cat in our modern world especially with the vampire craze that was popular a few years ago, but I felt it lacked conviction. Especially since Cat wavered back and forth on it herself. I also thought the whole General-Tilney-interested-in-Cat-because-she-will-be-rich was dated and slightly implausible. And it was weird how the author made such a point of establishing that belief and then abandoned it in the end for something else.


Readers who don’t consume a healthy diet of Austenesque literature may find this Ms. McDermid’s recreation to be impressive and admirable. But I’m afraid I didn’t. I’ve seen other Austenesque authors do it better (Meryton Press, Indie Jane Press – I’m looking at you.) I recommend this story to readers who would love to see a modern-day retelling of Northanger Abbey that very closely resembles Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.

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  21 Responses to “Northanger Abbey – Val McDermid”


    I have been sadly underwhelmed by this entire Austen Project. So, I’ll add this to my to-be-read pile but wait for a promo deal if I have to buy it. Thanks for your honest review.


      Which ones have you read? I found this one at a library book sale so it didn’t cost me much. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and reading my review!


    Thanks for the review, Meredith. As you say, it´s always desirable that authors add their imagination to the new versions of well known novels and it´s a pity when you don´t see any new idea or twist 🙁
    I like your expression “a carbon copy”, I didn´t know it and I´ll remember it when I want to talk about these matters!


    That’s exactly how I felt about it Meredith. I read the original and this one back to back and this definitely suffers in comparison. I didn’t notice any Austen-style sideswipes at the equivalent of the gothic novel and the vampire scenario definitely felt forced and artificial. Thankfully, I only paid £1 for it at a charity shop.

    I haven’t read any of the others yet, though I understand Eligible is getting reasonably good press, unlike S&S and Emma.

    As an aside on the Austen Project, it came up as a series of three questions on one of the UK’s TV quiz shows, University Challenge, this year. Got 3 out of 3! For some unknown reason, hubby always leaves the room when any Austen questions come up. Can’t think why!


      Hi Anji! Thanks so much for reading my review! I caught yours on GR yesterday and was happy to see we were so in accord. Btw I agree completely about General Tilney’s reason…completely out of left field with that! I got my copy at our library book sale so it only cost me $3! 😉

      I’m glad to hear Eligible might be better, I really love Emma (by Jane Austen) though so I’m tempted to try that one! It might be awhile before I read another one though.

      That’s so fun that the quiz show had questions about Jane Austen! I remember years ago my excitement when she popped up as a category in Jeopardy! I was thrilled and impressed my grandfather with my 5 for 5 cleaning of the round. 🙂


    Interesting review! I agree that McDermid’s book was too much of a one-to-one correspondence, at the occasional expense of plausibility. And the whole are-they-or-aren’t-they-vampires thing was overdone and inconsistent. But I found the dialogue clever, and I always appreciate it when Jane Austen’s thematic underpinnings are respected. For me personally, when characters stray too far from their original actions and choices, their personalities change, and then they should be treated as new characters, not Austen-characters-in-name-only.

    I’m dismayed by two tendencies in Austenesque fiction today: an emphasis on romance over theme, and the thirst for plot innovations. These are fine as far as they go, but I feel there should also be a space for retellings that are more homage than variation; to me such works are not mere carbon copies, but rather magnifying lenses that direct the focus toward telling details and ideas in the original—a way of amplifying the experience of the original novel and helping it to speak to a new age. I guess for me, literal retellings add a layer of subtle lit crit over the pure fiction—or, to use a musical metaphor, they are covers rather than riffs—and both have their place.


      Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Abigail! I like knowing what others think of the books I’ve read. I definitely am not looking for someone to change characters to the point that they are unrecognizable, I agree they shouldn’t stray too far away. I guess since I knew the Austen Project was contracting big-time best-selling authors, that the book would be more like “their take” or an “homage” to each Jane Austen novel, not a scene-by-scene recreation.

      I’ve never read anything else by Val McDermid, but I saw in her bio she is well-known for her crime/detective dramas. That would have been an awesome angle to play up! Instead of vampires, Cat could have been obsessed with sleuthing!


    Thanks for the review Meredith. I read Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility and thought it was awful. I read a sample of NA and thought it might not be too bad. After your review I think I’ll give it a miss. I have WAY too much stuff to read at the moment to waste time.


      Oh dear! That don’t sound good! I agree, I was most curious to give this series a try. But now that I have, it may take me awhile to read another book from it.


    I appreciate your honest review of this novel. None from the Austen Project have made it to my TBR list to date. Like Christina, I may wait until they are on really good deal but even then may not bother. There are just too many other books I need to read first!


      It’s a shame! You would think this would be such a successive venture! Jane Austen is timeless the authors chosen are successful in their field…something just doesn’t seem to be adding up though. Both copies own came from our library book sale, I’ll keep my eye out for the others, but I’m not in a hurry to pay any more for them.


    Thank you for your review Meredith. I haven’t competed any of these yet, but I am reading an ARC of “Eligible” and I look forward to reviewing it. I am sorry this book was a bit of a disappointment, but I know your readers appreciate the time you have spent to provide your opinion about this book.


      I look forward to hearing your thoughts on Eligible, Claudine! I don’t often write these kinds of reviews, and they are of course not very pleasant to write, but I do hope they are helpful! 🙂


        Yes, helpful and fair. I don’t enjoy writing these types of reviews either, but if you’re asked to review a book, that’s a chance we (reviewer and writer) are taking and we admire how respectful you are because that’s very important!


    Thanks for the review, Meredith. But, for me, with so much out there earning 4 or 5 stars, I think I will skip this one. I have loved Northanger Abbey but I do like creativity in variations or take-offs.


    hmm…thanks for the review. good to know where it stands.


    This Austen Project really isn’t overly impressive it seems for those from the Austen community of readers. I still haven’t tried one of the books yet. And because there aren’t many Northanger Abbey retellings out there, I do eventually want to read this one. I’ll keep my expectations more moderate however.

    Well rounded review!


      That is a good outlook to have. I thought I wasn’t setting my expectations too high since I did see a lot of readers comment unfavorably about the series in general, but perhaps I was still hoping against hope.

      Side note, you are one of the authors I was referring to when I said I’ve seen better NA modern-day adaptations! 😉

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