Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Emma: A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith

Emma:  A Modern Retelling by Alexander McCall Smith is the latest addition to The Austen Project, a project where all six of Jane Austen’s novels are being rewritten to modern times by well-known authors.  Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels, which I sadly have not had the opportunity to read yet.

Emma Woodhouse has just finished her university degree and is spending her summer at home with her father, Henry Woodhouse, before she will embark on her chosen field of interior design.  While at home, she befriends a new girl, Harriet Smith, and hopes to help her find true love while also meddling with the lives of other people around their small village.  Emma spends the summer finding out more about herself and compassion for others.

I had mixed feelings about this book.  On one hand, I loved, loved, loved the added detail and background on Mr. Woodhouse, Miss Taylor, Emma, and her sister Isabella growing up. I also loved learning about Isabella’s romance with John Knightly.  The bad was that the story seemed to meander after this. Truthfully I thought it was going to end up being a love story between Emma and Harriet as Emma found Harriet to be so attractive, shivered with disgust at the thought of sex with men, and painted Harriet in the nude.  George Knightly and Emma had hardly any interaction and Frank Churchill was also not featured very much.  Therefore, the ending was a surprise and not the great build-up that happens in the Austen novel.

Overall, this is an entertaining retelling of Emma that provides a lot of great background, but fails to provide the romance and wit that made the original Emma a classic.  The story meanders strangely with an ending that doesn’t fit the rest of the novel.  I enjoyed the other two entries in the Austen Project much more.

Book Source:  The Kewaunee Public Library – Thanks!


  1. Thank you for sharing your honest thoughts about this modern retelling of Emma. Terrific review, Laura!