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emma

This was always going to be an interesting read for me in one sense or another. This books is a new version of Jane Austen’s Emma (a modernisation of each Austen novel was written for a Harper Collins series and this was the third of that series). Emma is not only my favourite Austen novel, but quite possibly my favourite novel of all time by any writer. I’m always intrigued by book and film remakes/reboots/reimaginings/retellings or the numerous other re-whatevers that are around so I sorted of looked forward to reading this, while also approaching with some trepidation.

Anyway…to condense the storyline for anyone who is not familiar, Emma Woodhouse is a privileged young lady who gets pleasure from trying to organise her friends lives and relationships, and fancies herself as an expert matchmaker. However, her meddling is about to result in a few life lessons learned for Emma…

Honestly, having finished this book I am  not sure WHAT to make of it. I definitely didn’t hate it – McCall Smith has a gentle and genteel style of writing, which makes it easy reading, and this book more or less stays true to the original storyline. However, it never really sits well in the modern age. The characters still seem stuck in the original era, but whereas in Austen’s novel, there is sparkling wit and humour, and Emma seems quite a modern young lady, here she seems old-fashioned and something of a snob. Austen wrote that Emma was a heroine who nobody except herself would like (I actually love Emma’s character, flaws and all) and McCall Smith seems to have actually created this very Emma. There is nothing particularly warm about her, nothing to make the reader understand her or root for her, and attempts to remind us that it is set in the current day – mentions of modern technology, modern transport etc – do seem awkwardly shoehorned in, just to remind us that this is indeed a modern retelling. Thus, even if you take this as a novel on it’s own merits and try to block out thoughts of the original, it still doesn’t quite work.

I would have liked more Knightley in this one – he barely features – and less padding at the beginning; at almost 100 pages in and Harriet Smith still doesn’t warrant a mention!

So overall an interesting experience. I’m not disappointed that I read it, but I wouldn’t really recommend it to Austen lovers, unless like me, you’re curious to see how the story sits in a modern setting.

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Think of Jane Austen’s Emma, transported to a 1990s Beverly Hills High School, and you get Clueless.  Alicia Silverstone is Cher, a spoiled teenager, whose life revolves around clothes, shopping and being one of the most popular girls in school.  She and her friend Dionne (Stacey Dash) take new girl Tai (Brittany Murphy) under their wing and give her a makeover, in the hope of pairing her up with good looking Elton (Jeremy Sisto).  However, nothing goes to plan, and Cher starts wondering if she’s really as good at this matchmaking business as she thinks she is – or is she really just clueless?

As a big fan of Emma, I was intrigued to see how this modern day version worked, and – although I suspect I’m a bit older than the audience at which this film was aimed – I did enjoy it a lot.  Alicia Silverstone was just the right combination of loveable and infuriating, and Brittany Murphy was lovely as Tai.  Paul Rudd was adorable as Josh, and Breckin Meyer and Jeremy Sisto both provided good support.

You don’t need to have any knowledge of Emma to enjoy Clueless – it can either be viewed as a retelling of the story, or as a sweet film in its own right.  A likeable cast and some funny moments make it well worth seeing.

Year of release: 1995

Director: Amy Heckerling

Producers: Twink Caplan, Barry M. Berg, Robert Lawrence, Scott Rudin, Adam Schroeder

Writers: Jane Austen (based on novel ‘Emma’), Amy Heckerling

Main cast: Alicia Silverstone, Paul Rudd, Stacey Dash, Brittany Murphy, Donald Faison, Breckin Meyer, Jeremy Sisto, Dan Hedaya

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Click here for my review of the novel ‘Emma’ by Jane Austen.

Click here for my review of the 1972 mini series adaptation of Emma, starring Doran Godwin.

Click here for my review of the 1996 film Emma, starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

Click here for my review of the 1996 television film Emma, starring Kate Beckinsale.

Click here for my review of the 2009 mini series adaptation of Emma, starring Romola Garai.

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As the title suggests, this book tells the story of Edgar Sawtelle, a young mute boy, who lives on a farm in Wisconsin with his parents.  They lead a very happy existence, breeding and training their unique  and brilliant dogs, known simply as Sawtelle Dogs.  However, when Edgar’s Uncle Claude comes to the farm, things change.  The tension between Edgar’s father (also called Edgar and known as ‘Gar’) and Claude is almost palpable, and eventually Claude leaves after a huge argument.  However, when events at the farm take a tragic turn, and Claude insinuates himself into the affections of Edgar’s mother Trudy, our eponymous hero realises that life as he knew it has changed forever, and he takes drastic action to try and make things right again…

Put simply – I loved this book!  It really is all kinds of awesome.  It did start slowly, and in fact up until about 40 pages in, I was considering giving up on it), but I’m so glad that I stuck to it.  It is a modernised retelling of Hamlet, but is also a beautiful and incredible story in its own right.  The characters are so beautifully drawn, and Edgar makes for a superb hero, in that he really isn’t a hero at all – he’s just a frightened boy whose safe world is turned upside down, and he tries to work out what has happened and put right all the wrongs.  Sometimes he makes bad choices, and they come back to haunt him, and sometimes he loses his way, but I found it impossible not to root for him throughout the story.  The characters of Trudy, Gar and Claude were also very well depicted – there is no black and white with these characters; none of them are wholly good and none of them are wholly bad, but by the end of the book I certainly felt that I had got to know them well. 

On teh subject of characters, it’s rare to find a book where dogs’ characters play such a huge part in the storyline, but it works perfectly here.  I fell in love with Edgar’s pet dog Almondine, and loved the short parts of the book that were written from her point of view (in fact, ti was hard not to cry at times).  The relationship between her and Edgar, and the level of feeling between them will be familiar to any dog owner.  While Almondine was more of a pet, the book also talks about the dogs that are raised on the farm, and throughout the story, we get to know some of them very well, and their individual characters also shine through and add to the story.

It is fair to say that the author is a somewhat verbose and ‘wordy’ writer, and often is so descriptive that two or three pages can pass without anything much happening.  But who cares when prose is as enjoyable as this?  The writing is eloquent and often beautiful, and inspired many emotions in me while I was reading this book.

In short, this book is one of those stories that only comes along very rarely – one that lingers in the mind long after you have turned the last page of the book.  highly, highly recommended.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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I received a proof copy of this book, and was not sure whether or not I would enjoy it.  In fact, I loved it!

It is a retelling of the Frankenstein story, but in this instance, the narrator is Victor Frankenstein himself.  At the beginning of the tale, Frankenstein is at Oxford university with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.  Shelley is actually a prominent character in the book, as his wife Mary Shelley (who of course was the author of the original novel ‘Frankenstein’).  Lord Byron is also a character in the book.

So, an ambitious undertaking then – but in the hands of Peter Ackroyd, it is brilliantly executed.  He manages to being some sympathy to the character of Victor, and also the monster himself.  Shelley, Mary Shelley and Lord Byron are entirely believable characters, and the way they are portrayed is in keeping with the way they are largely perceived to have been, and the London which they inhabit is vividly brought to life.

The reader is taken on a journey with Victor, as we witness his interest in creating such a creature turn to obsession, and finally horror and despair at the consequences of his actions.  There is a definite twist in the tale, which I could not have predicted.

The writing is eloquent and descriptive, and I really felt able to lose myself in this novel.

(I’d like to thank NewBooksMag for sending me this book to review.  NewBooksMag’s website can be found here.)

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