Written by Alexander McCall Smith



I’ve never been Jane Austen obsessed.  i enjoyed her books, and never minded reading them in school.  I understand that she was making social commentary in the only manner available to her, and I can appreciate that.  But at some point, it felt like the same theme in a different manor house with different character names.

What It’s About

In this reimagining of Austen’s classic tale, Emma is a wealthy heiress in modern day Britain.  Emma returns home from college, and lives with her hypochondriac father while she sets up a business as an interior designer.  Luckily for her, the village is growing, providing Emma ample opportunity to advise friends and acquaintances on ways to improve their relationships.

The Good

Alexander McCall Smith has a great voice.  He writes in a light, easy-to-read tone with realistic dialogue.  In Emma, he did an admirable job of combining his voice with that of Jane Austen.  The plot and the paragraph structure tracks pretty well with what I remember of the Austen classic.

The Not-So-Good

Emma was the Austen book that I liked best.  In the original, Emma was smart and audacious, and just needed something to contribute.  I always felt that if Emma lived in today’s world, she might well run it.  The original had power because Emma was a woman who was underestimated and limited because of her sex.

In the modern retelling, Emma herself is the problem.  This Emma is snobby, entitled, and simply unlikeable.  You could give the original Emma some grace because of the time and societal mores, but the new Emma has nothing holding her back except herself.  She knows she’s better than everyone, and doesn’t seem to grow.

Final Thoughts

Alexander McCall Smith could write the phone book and make it readable.  I think the problem here is that he seems to view Austen novels as romantic romps where everyone ends up happily ever after with Mr. Darcy.  The originals were about women who could make better lives for themselves only by marrying “up”, when they were often eminently capable.  I don’t know how you translate that to today, but this book didn’t do it.  Not even close.