I was vaguely aware of this 'project' but had put it to one side as something I was not really interested in. More cashing in on the Austen name I thought and decided to have nothing to do with it when a copy of Joanna Trollope's update on Sense and Sensibility arrived unexpectedly.
Now I have read many of this author's novels, back in the nineties she was responsible for books that the papers dubbed 'Aga Sagas' which I gather did not meet with the approbation of the writer, but so many of them featured rather super cool glam mums with an Aga that I thought it was quite apposite. After a while these began to pall on me and I have not read any Joanna for some time. However, she is a skilled and accomplished writer with an easy narrative flow which always drew me in and so it was with this latest.
We are now up to date at Norland and the Dashwoods are about to be slung out of the home they have lived in and loved for so long. We all know the story - along comes the incredibly ghastly Fanny, even worse in this version:
"It was outrageous really, how soon after Dad's death that Fanny came bowling up the drive in her top of the range four-by-four Land Cruiser with Harry in his car seat and the Romanian nanny and the kind of household luggage you only bring if you want to make it very very plain who's the boss around here now......she asked if they would mind awfully staying in the kitchen wing for a few hours as she had her London interior designer coming and he charged so much for every hour that she really wanted to be able to concentrate on him"
This is a taster of how the update has been done and of course the character of the protagonists has to remain the same so we have slightly dozy Mrs Dashwood, only it turned out that she had never married Mr Dashwood, Elinor, who I always have sympathy with, Willoughby (called Wills in this update - clever as it is then impossible not to picture the Duke of Cambridge in this role), Fanny - see above, John, even weaker and more spineless that in the original etc etc etc
And of course Marianne remains the same, simply a pain in the neck. I, personally, can only tolerate her behaviour because of the ironic treatment Jane Austen gives her and with this absent she is just boring. And Edward - well, what can one say about Edward other than that he is even more gormless in this version than in the original and with less excuse for being dominated by his mother and aimlessly wandering around searching for a role. I am simply staggered that Elinor every found him attractive.
I did enjoy this book in a subfusc sort of way and it was amusing and mildly fun. I note that the Austen Project (sounds really grand does it not?) will publish Val McDermid's reworking of Northanger Abbey in Spring 2014 and Curtis Sittenfeld's Pride and Prejudice in Autumn 2014.
I would like to say what is the point of all of this except that publishers and authors know full well that anything attached in any way to Jane Austen is a moneyspinner so I already know the answer, but I do find it rather dispiriting. Mark you, pretty sure that Jane would find the entire thing very amusing and would chortle at the thought that after all this time her books were still generating interest, and cash.
NB - book is due to be published on 24 October 2013