Monday 5 May 2014

Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope

I had quite a Jane Austen obsession there for a bit, and while Sense and Sensibility was never one of my absolute favourites, I was fairly interested when Joanna Trollope, another author I have regularly enjoyed, announced she was doing a modern version of the Austen novel as part of 'The Austen Project'. And who better! You know you are in safe hands with Trollope when it comes to character, relationships and lively dialogue.
    In this update, you've got the Dashwood family, three gorgeous young women and their more creative than practical mother, thrown out on their ear by mercenary relations who have inherited the family pile. This is due to a lack of foresight on the part of the girls' late father. Trollope replaces primo-geniture as the reason behind the girls losing their beloved Norland with their being illegitimate. Other updates include the power of social media, and the more superficially snobbish characters are more concerned with money than having a title.
    But the heart of the story is the contrast of the two sisters, each  experiencing problems along the path to true love - the older Elinor being the drearily sensible one, while her sister Marianne, is astonishingly impulsive and passionate. It was always a very contrived idea, and it is fortunate that Elinor has beneath her quiet and pragmatic veneer, a warm heart, and that Marianne learns eventually to consider other people's feelings and develops some strength of character.
    However I found the cast of ridiculous and often unpleasant characters very tiresome. I couldn't quite believe that so many of them - the scheming Lucy who won't give up Edward without a fight, the ditzy, insensitive Charlotte and her gushy sister Mary, wife of the tiresomely jolly Sir John, to say nothing of the odious Nancy - could have so few redeeming features. Edward was always a wimp, but this is explained away by his repressive mother, yet another nasty.
    The characters are all just a bit too extreme and verging on the cardboard cut-out. Then again they were probably like this in Austen as well, only the modern reader has the luxury of putting this down to the Regency period while being able to enjoy Austen's elegant and witty prose. Sadly there isn't a lot of wit here - the characters are all too dumb or lovelorn for that, although the dialogue is snappy and the prose reasonably elegant - which is what we would expect from Trollope. This makes the novel a quick and easy read, but somehow Austen was always rather more satisfying.
    Will I be returning for more in The Austen Project? Not just yet, I imagine, but then again I am curious about how Persuasion might turn out and who would have picked Val McDermid for Northanger Abbey!

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