My week in books: 2nd March 2015

Last month I started what was going to be a monthly feature of book reviews but it ended up so long that I decided to cut it down the weekly. I only read the one book this week but the post still ended up being really long because I just had so much to say about it.

SENSE AND SENSIBILITY – JOANNA TROLLOPE

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How long: I started it over a month ago but in total probably took me about six days.

Where I finished it: On the train home from a horrendous job interview.

Favourite quote: ‘I think that money is even more boring than love. But not quite as utterly boring as biology.’

Would I read it again: Not on your life.

I like Jane Austen as much as the next person. Actually, I probably like Jane Austen more than the next person but there is such a thing as too much Jane Austen. And in the case of Joanna Trollope’s rewrite of Sense and Sensibility there was too much Jane Austen.

There’s an interview with Joanna Trollope in the back of the book where she says that she re-read Sense and Sensibility ‘exhaustively’ while writing. I think exhaustively is the right word. She exhausted the original text; overworked it in her desperation to get every tiny piece of plot and character into her new version.

But it’s not a new version. She can say that she put it in a modern setting but it was old fashioned families with old fashioned values. Elinor and Marianne as adults still have to refer to Abigail as ‘Mrs Jennings’, Sir John still shoots pheasants and Margaret is still called Margaret. At first I was really entertained by the Dashwoods being appalled at Barton Cottage because it’s a new build, I thought that was a really clever way to update their original disgust because it’s so small. But the more I thought about it the more I would have preferred it the other way around. What if they were appalled because it was old with low ceilings and bad insulation, instead wanting a modern house with fitted kitchen and double glazing?

The most successful modern interpretation of Jane Austen that I can think of is Clueless which is recognisably Emma, if you know the plot line, but didn’t feel the need to include every tiny little detail. For example, writing out the character of Jane Fairfax completely and instead having Frank Churchill be gay was just a genius idea.

So then I got thinking about what I would have done in Joanna Trollope’s shoes. I should point out that I have no misconceptions about my ability to write fiction, or even to think creatively but I was quite pleased with some of my ideas. What about if the three girls were mixed race? Mrs Ferrars could have been against Edward marrying Elinor because she was borderline racist, rather than being mercenary. It’s still not very modern but at least it’s different.

Joanna Trollope also took away a lot of Jane Austen’s subtly. Instead of Fanny and John Dashwood being entertainingly self-centred they became downright horrible. Even Elinor at times wasn’t very likeable. Instead of being self-sacrificing she becomes a little rude, snapping at her mother more than she should get away with. Although her mother is useless.

I’ve never read anything else by Joanna Trollope. My mum’s a big fan and is always recommending her books but it’s never happened. And now I don’t think it ever will. By the end even her use of commas annoyed me.

I’d be really interested to hear from anyone who read it and enjoyed it as there must be people who did; the reviews on the back are all really positive. But personally I just can’t see any redeeming qualities.

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