Emma is a rich, spoilt young woman, fresh from university and back in Norfolk where she enjoys being a big fish in a tiny pond.
The idea of getting well known authors to re-work Austen’s novels into a modern setting is a tricky one. The focus on class and the responsibilities of those with money has less importance and so Emma’s interfering seems less plausible. Emma as a character provokes strong reactions and although her spoilt and manipulative traits remain at the core of the story it is less clear why she is so loved by those that know her.
What I did enjoy is that McCall Smith begins before the original and shows Emma’s growing up. However, I think many of the characters lost depth became over simplified. Harriet remains annoying, now a pretty airhead rather than an impoverished naïve innocent. George Knightley is a man of his time and I don’t think he transfers well. The loss of the monstrous Mrs Elton was a great pity although the development of Mrs Goddard is an unexpected move.
Despite my reservations, Mr Woodhouse is wonderfully drawn and all his neuroses transfer well into today and Miss Taylor as the governess from Edinburgh, who is sharper and less tolerant of Emma’s faults and is a typically delightful McCall Smith creation.
It’s not perfect but I did enjoy this book. It’s a light, entertaining read and there are glimmers of true McCall Smith warmth that echo his Mma Ramotswe novels.
Thank you to lovereading and Harper for my review copy.