Emma: A Modern Retelling – by Alexander McCall Smith – book review

Since Jane Austen is my ALL-time favorite author, of course I had to read this updated version of her classic novel, EMMA. And I must say the beginning was quite promising. But then I had to award only three stars on Goodreads.

emma_retellingAuthor Alexander McCall Smith (most famous for his very enjoyable #1 Ladies Detective Agency series) captures some of the feel of Austen’s wit and humor.

Unfortunately, the longer I kept reading, the less that sustained the rest of the book. What Smith WASN’T able to capture was any of Austen’s subtlety or the delicate way she interwove the lives of people in Highbury.

Most of the same characters are here: Harriet Smith, George Knightly, his brother who is married to Emma’s sister, Mr. Woodhouse, Frank Churchill, Jane Fairfax, Mr. Elton, Robert Martin, the two Bates women, and, of course, the Westons. And the plot follows closely along with the original plot. But these characters seem much less integrated. The book felt more episodic — dealing with one storyline at a time and then moving on to the next.

What was also difficult, for me, is having to reckon with an Emma who calls her father “Pops”, drives a mini Cooper, and wants to be an interior designer. Or a Frank Churchill who hints to Emma that he might be gay, to explain why his flirting with her should be considered harmless. Or Vicar Elton – with a DUI.

alex_mccall_smith
Alexander McCall Smith

I’m afraid, taken as a whole, the book just doesn’t work all that well. And even as an Austen-die-hard fan, it wasn’t that enjoyable to read.

More about the author.

You might be interested in my review of another book by Smith, The Forever Girl.