Culture Street

Books

Emma by Alexander McCall Smith

On November 3, 2014

By Sophia Whitfield
Emma is the third of Jane Austen’s famous novels to be rewritten for contemporary audiences. Joanna Trollope penned the story of the Dashwoods in Sense & Sensibility and Val McDermid the gothic Northanger Abbey. Alexander McCall Smith brings charm and humour to his retelling of Emma.

Having completed university Emma Woodhouse returns home to Norfolk where her father is anxiously waiting for her. The house is quieter than Emma remembers. Her sister Isabella has moved to London after being whisked away on a Ducati motorbike much to the horror of Emma’s father. Her former governess Miss Taylor has news that could disrupt the household, leaving Emma and her father alone to contemplate life. Much has changed and Emma finds herself with nothing to do.

Emma's sister is preoccupied with having children and her former governess with a love interest. Emma decides she must set up her own design company to fill the void in her life. She soon becomes distracted opting instead to meddle in the lives of others in order to prove her ability as a matchmaker.

Emma takes an interest in local Harriet Smith. Harriet's need to marry well is the instigator for Emma to set to work. Harriet is overjoyed to find a friend in Emma particularly as it means she can frequently be seen being driven around in Emma's green Mini Cooper.

McCall Smith follows Austen’s plotline incorporating two of the pivotal scenes from the original, the disastrous picnic and Emma’s hilarious portrait of Harriet Smith. Both scenes have been updated for modern audiences with a quirky twist.

Although Emma seems to know about everyone's current love interest, she is in the dark when it comes to her own love life.

George Knightley, a dear friend of the family, drives a stately Land Rover that meets with Mr Woodhouse’s approval particularly when compared with rebellious John Knightley’s Ducati motorbike. His visits to Norfolk become more frequent but it takes a while before Emma's curiosity is piqued.

Even the minor characters in this novel are brilliantly drawn. Miss Bates is exactly as she should be and Frank Churchill has not been brought up in the country but in Australia, a very long way from home and particularly from his own father.

McCall Smith has delightfully retold this classic. Emma’s character remains as it always has been since first told by Austen. A joyful book with a modern twist.

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