The difficulty with Jane Austen’s novel Emma is that the main character is not a particularly nice woman. She is bossy and snobby and doesn’t listen to anyone. In the end she gets her marriage to a much older man who has known her all his life and has been trying to mould her into an acceptable wife. There are problems with that issue as well because it could be seen as grooming and modern readers don’t always want their female characters to have all their problems resolved by marriage to a rich, older man. I still recommend that you read the book though because, although there are these issues, Jane Austen’s characterisation is brilliant and her depiction of a small, rural community where everyone knows each other and talks about each other all the time is compelling.
Juliet Archer’s book The Importance of Being Emma is an updating of the original and makes it a romantic comedy. Her Emma is also opinionated and privileged but the author creates a context in which that works better – Emma is now clever, protected and naive but very clever. The Knightly character is now not that much older than Emma but more experienced in business and is asked to mentor Emma by her father who is bringing her into his family owned business. This works very well and the more unsettling aspects of the original are diluted in favour of some excellent romantic comedy set in the community surrounding the two family food businesses.
The main feature of the book is matchmaking and the author manages to bring that into the modern day very well. The efforts she makes to match her assistant Harriet to an unsuitable suitor who really wants to marry Emma are funny and cleverly told. I also liked the treatment of her hypochondriac father and her over protective sister.
I liked this book a lot. I think that I liked it more because I knew the original and was continually comparing the two but I don’t think that ignorance of the classic would spoil your enjoyment. I thought that the author’s light touch with dialogue and some clever plotting made the book very readable. There is a bit of a market for modern retellings of Jane Austen but not many of them take on Emma so I have to admire this book for that alone.
This is a light read but a rewarding one. The author has also tackled Persuasion which I also think is very successful. An excellent start to this month’s reading of books with names in titles.
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