I bought this book myself because I actually like Northanger Abbey more than any other Jane Austen works. Don't tell...
Val McDermid's version of Northanger Abbey is part of the Austen Project, a re-imagining of Jane Austen's work. They have four books out at the moment, I've read this one and Eligible, the Pride and Prejudice reworking. I enjoyed this one more than Eligible but it was because I couldn't get into Curtis Sittenfeld's writing although I did enjoy her taking Pride and Prejudice to Cincinnati.
I was also excited to read something by McDermid, a Scottish crime/mystery writer who's written a book series I've enjoyed that features Dr. Tony Hill.
Title: Northanger Abbey
Author: Val McDermid
Page Number: 343
Genre: fiction, contemporary romance, mystery of sorts
Publisher: Grove Press part of Grove Atlantic, Inc. Published in the UK via the Borough Press, an imprint of Harper Collins UK
Internationally best-selling crime writer Val McDermid has riveted millions of readers worldwide with her acutely suspenseful, psychologically complex, seamlessly plotted thrillers. In Northanger Abbey, she delivers her own, witty, updated take on Austen’s classic novel about a young woman whose visit to the stately home of a well-to-do acquaintance stirs her most macabre imaginings, with an extra frisson of suspense that only McDermid could provide.
Cat Morland is ready to grow up. A homeschooled minister’s daughter in the quaint, sheltered Piddle Valley in Dorset, she loses herself in novels and is sure there is a glamorous adventure awaiting her beyond the valley’s narrow horizon. So imagine her delight when the Allens, neighbors and friends of her parents, invite her to attend the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh as their guest.
With a sunny personality, tickets every night and a few key wardrobe additions courtesy of Susie Allen, Cat quickly begins to take Edinburgh by storm and is taken into the bosom of the Thorpe family, particularly by eldest daughter Bella. And then there’s the handsome Henry Tilney, an up-and-coming lawyer whose family home is the beautiful and forbidding Northanger Abbey. Cat is entranced by Henry and his charming sister Eleanor, but she can’t help wondering if everything about them is as perfect as it seems. Or has she just been reading too many novels?
A delectable, note-perfect modern update of the Jane Austen classic, Northanger Abbey tells a timeless story of innocence amid cynicism, the exquisite angst of young love, and the value of friendship.
McDermid's version of Northanger Abbey deftly follows Jane Austen's version except in setting and time. McDermid has updated the setting to Scotland, specifically Edinburgh during the Fringe and the Scottish Borders (as well as Loch Lomond). The time McDermid's novel is set in is contemporary to us, swapping texting, email and facebook in for letter writing. Fast, souped up cars replace horses and gigs and lawyers and bankers replace the priestly class. Austen's satire of Gothic novels is replaced by a Scottish vampire series, while McDermid does poke fun the titles of the set are so adorable that I kinda wanted to read them (Killer Kelpies of Kerrera, Ghasts of Gigha and Maenads on Mingulay)
My favorite part of this entire book was that it was set in Scotland. I love a good tartan noir, Scottish mystery or Scottish romance. I'm biased and I don't care.
The majority of this book was set in Edinburgh during the Fringe, which is a festival of epic proportions. Usually it's multiple festivals, with the Fringe being the largest, that run around August. It's a chaotic and brilliant time. the Fringe Festival is the largest open art festival in the world, with a focus on comedy. The International Book Festival runs around the same time as well as the International Arts Festival (I think). Also, the Royal Military Tattoo in Edinburgh is in August. Basically, it's awesome. I'm going to find a video of the Tattoo, it's super cool.
Even if all this wasn't going on, Edinburgh is a beautiful city, it's one of my favorite places in the United Kingdom. Actually, I preferred Scotland to the rest of the UK.
The other main setting of this book was at the Scottish Borders, which is below Edinburgh. It's a scenic, rural part of lowland Scotland. This is where the Tilney's Northanger Abbey is located. After the location shift, I decided the Northanger Abbey looked like Abbotsford House, the actual home of Sir Walter Scott. Scott's house is in the Borders and this video from Vimeo shows the house exterior, an aerial shot and the land around the house. Plus, this house is actually in the Gothic architecture style. It's perfect.
Northanger Abbey is a less popular Jane Austen book but I really like it. The main character, Catherine Morland is an avid reader of Gothic Romances, the somewhat trashy novels that were popular during the time. She's eager for an adventure whilst on her trip to Bath with her neighbors. While there she meets Henry Tilney, a flirtatious wit who is studying (or is?) a clergy, a possibly lucrative position. He is the second son of a General. Also met while in Bath are the Thorpe's, a social climbing, dubious family that often interferes in Catherine's life under the guise of friendship.
McDermid's story follows this closely. Catherine, called Cat, goes with her neighbors to Edinburgh during the Fringe. While there she meets Henry Tilney while learning the dances for the Ball (ceilidh are really fun, as an aside). She then meets Bella Thorpe, fellow lover of vampire novels and they form a fast friendship. Bella is a bit vapid and flighty. Bella introduces her brother, Johnny Thorpe when he comes to Edinburgh for a visit. It's also during a visit that Cat learns that her brother, Jamie, is dating Bella. Using text and facebook to communicate, Cat and Bella talk about boys, the Fringe, the future and books. This all follows Austen's novel, just in a modern time and different setting.
Cat also meets Henry's sister Ellie and later her older brother Freddie. She's invited back to Northanger Abbey with Ellie. Henry goes back and forth from Northanger to Loch Lomond (video) because he is studying to be a lawyer in the Scottish legal system (which is different from the English system). As there is no internet in Northanger (the horror!) Cat has to go into town with Ellie in order to discover that Bella has cheated on Jamie (now a fiance) with Freddie Tilney (a soldier, visiting from Afghanistan). This causes Jamie and Bella to break up and during the breakup Jamie tells his sister more about Bella and the Thorpes.
By the time that Cat has realised that Bella isn't such a great person and their friendship was based on the misbegotten belief that Cat and Jamie were richer or of a higher position in a class system that I still don't understand. For instance, Jamie did not secure a position at a prestigious law firm (they don't call them that over there) in London with a hefty salary that would allow for a posh house in Chelsea. Instead, he secured a position in York, which is lovely but Bella assumes it would not afford her the lifestyle she wants. Freddie Tilney is a captain that is on leave from Afghanistan and the son of a British General who fought in the Falklands and from what I gather, made his fortune from military consulting. This is different from Austen's work of course.
The General does kick Cat out of his house over something he hears from Johnny Thorpe while in London. Johnny works in the financial sector in London and runs into the General. Johnny is flashy, drives a souped up car and is worried about appearances. He seems to try and date Cat (because of assumptions about her future wealth) but he's so obnoxious.
During all this time, while Cat is at Northanger, she's under the belief that the General might be a vampire of sorts. His wife died, in what to her, seems to be a mysterious way. In fact, the Tilney's had an unhappy marriage and his wife died of cancer.
After Cat returns home, Henry Tilney visits her and apologizes for his father's behavior. It's also the start of a long relationship between the two as Cat begins her career as a nanny. At the epilogue it is discovered that Cat and Henry marry, Ellie goes to art school, Johnny Thorpe is fired from his bank for unethical behavior, and Bella Thorpe begins a career of reality TV.
I would say the only thing I truly disliked would be the ages of Cat and Henry. She's seventeen or eighteen when the novel begins and he's mid twenties or more. Out of college. She's just graduated high school. I always side eyed dudes in college (or who were graduated) who wanted to date an eighteen year old. Is it legal, sure. Are you the same stage in life? No. It's creepy. I thought it was creepy here too. It's a weird hangup I have but why does a grown man need a barely adult? Exactly.
Also the texting. Maybe I'm an old fart, but I've only met a few people who use "text" speak. Everyone else I know spells out the entire word. No one says "hi, txt me 2nite". It makes me stabby. In fact, maybe I know of no one who texts like that because I don't allow them near me. I hate it. So, maybe people are doing it but I hate it. McDermid uses it in the book to delineate what is spoken word and what is communicated digitally. So, eh.
I had this as a 3.5 or 4. I thought it was really enjoyable but I also don't mind re-reads, weird mashups including zombies and I'm not a purist. So, I think it's fun and a keeper.
I had never read Austen's book (Northanger Abbey OG) until recently. It was just never mentioned as much as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma.
I actually saw the movie first. Which has happened for every Austen book. I see the movie and then read the book. Either ITV or some other British network commissioned a movie from it and I really loved it. I'm not saying you can watch on line, possibly illegally, but you know. It was on PBS so it's totally available.