Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid. Grove Press, 2014. $26.00, 368 pages.
For Catherine Moreland, daughter of a country vicar, nothing in life is ever quite as exciting as in her books. Homeschooled her entire life, Cat is a sheltered and naïve teenager with the supernatural on the brain and Facebook and Twitter on her phone.
Wait. Facebook? Yes. For this Catherine Moreland, unlike Jane Austen’s original, is a 21st century teen more concerned with clothes, vampires and the internet than empire waists and proper etiquette.
For the first time in her life, Cat is leaving her small, country county to visit Edinburgh with her neighbors the Allens, a theatre producer and his wife, and she is plunged into a whirlwind visit of shopping, plays, and dance lessons in preparation for the upcoming Highland Ball. It is at these dance lessons that Cat meets the intriguing Henry Tilney and learns of his cold and distant father, his dead mother, and his mysterious home Northanger Abbey.
As her friendship with Henry and his sister Ellie develops, so does her acquaintance with Bella Thorpe, the daughter of an old school friend of Susie Allen, and Cat soon finds herself torn between the two. But the more she gets to know her new friends and the more she learns of their true nature, she can’t help but wonder if everything is as it seems.
As part of the Austen Project, “Northanger Abbey” is the second reimagining of an Austen classic by a well-known contemporary author. In October 2013, Joanna Trollope brought “Sense and Sensibility” into the modern world with her retelling; this autumn Curtis Sittenfield will be sharing a new version of “Pride and Prejudice,” Alexander McCall Smith has been tasked with reworking the story of Emma Woodhouse.
Val McDermid’s “Northanger Abbey” is an entertaining and enjoyable take on Austen’s classic Gothic satire. It’s not as good as the original, but nothing ever is with Austen. There’s a bit of charm lost in moving the story to modern day, and some of McDermid’s choices don’t resonate quite as well, but if you’re an Austen fan, it’s still worth the read. Catherine Moreland amuses just as well in the 21st century as she did in the 19th.
Rebekah Scott is a reference librarian at May Memorial Public Library. Visit us on the web at www.alamancelibraries.org.