Thursday, 9 January 2014

Review: Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope

I am going to be honest here. I bought this one against my better judgement. And I did at least, try to like it. Unfortunately, my better judgement was telling me that such a project, updating Austen's Sense and Sensibility and setting it in modern day England, was foolhardy and a waste of my valuable reading time. But other factors soon came into play. Like the fact that Austen's work has been successfully modernised in the past. The film Clueless is, of course, a modern take on Emma, while Bridget Jones's Diary puts a unique modern spin on Pride and Prejudice. And so, something within me decided to give this one a chance. 

And well ... other reviewers may have more positive feelings about the book and are entitled to of course, but for me, the whole thing was a waste of my time and hard-earned money. 

Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope is as disappointing Mr Willoughby. For those of you who don't know, Willoughby was the rich, flashy guy who seduced the young and idealistic Marianne and then ditched her as soon as someone better came along. And then Marianne decided that she was better off with good old Colonel Brandon, who she initially thought was old and boring, but was actually pretty good value on his own. And that pretty much sums up how I feel about the book. Trollope's Sense and Sensibility is grander and flashier than Austen's version, and does have a few moments that feel quite insightful and are quite entertaining (Marianne's temper tantrum being broadcast on YouTube for example,) but the whole thing overall is a bit of a disappointment. Austen's Sense and Sensibility is a bit quieter, a bit less flashy in its approach but offers readers better value. 

The reason Trollope's version fails, I feel, is that she simply transplants the main characters into modern day England, but they don't necessarily adapt with it as easily as they could. It's almost impossible to believe that their mother--who must surely have lived through second-wave feminism--could be quite such a useless character. When Austen created Elinor, Marianne and the others they were both products of their times and had much to say about the nature of inheritance and the need for woman to marry to survive. Such a need is almost redundant in the time and place where Trollope's version is set and Elinor is the only character who shows any kind of backbone at all when it comes to creating her own path in life. (On a side note, the reason why Bridget Jones and Clueless work so well, is because the writers took the basic ideas and transposed them into modern settings, with truly modern characters.) Fanny, meanwhile, provides an amusing portrayal of the Nouveau Riche and steals practically every scene that she is in, while her husband is proven to be well, a bit of fool. It's a bit of a shame really, as it's obvious that Trollope has done a lot of research and would seem to truly love adding her own spin to Austen's world.

Sense and Sensibility is the first in something called the Austen Project, which seeks to update all six of Austen's completed works, with novels written by contemporary authors who have achieved literary significance. The novels will be released and written as follows:

Sense and Sensibility Joanna Trollope
Northanger Abbey Val McDermid
Pride and Prejudice Curtis Sittenfeld
Emma Alexander McCall Smith

Which, of course, leaves me wondering who will be rewriting Mansfield Park and Persuasion ... Then again, unless this review gets thousands upon thousands of hits, it's unlikely that I will be sticking around ...