Northanger Abbey – Val McDermid

Borough Press

Publication date – 27 March



4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

“A modern re-imagining of the Gothic Classic Northanger Abbey by the bestselling crime author Val McDermid. The second book in The Austen Project.

Seventeen-year-old Catherine ‘Cat’ Morland has led a sheltered existence in rural Dorset, a life entirely bereft of the romance and excitement for which she yearns. So when Cat’s wealthy neighbours, the Allens, invite her to the Edinburgh Festival, she is sure adventure beckons.

Edinburgh initially offers no such thrills: Susie Allen is obsessed by shopping, Andrew Allen by the Fringe. A Highland Dance class, though, brings Cat a new acquaintance: Henry Tilney, a pale, dark-eyed gentleman whose family home, Northanger Abbey, sounds perfectly thrilling. And an introduction to Bella Thorpe, who shares her passion for supernatural novels, provides Cat with a like-minded friend. But with Bella comes her brother John, an obnoxious banker whose vulgar behaviour seems designed to thwart Cat’s growing fondness for Henry.

Happily, rescue is at hand. The rigidly formal General Tilney invites her to stay at Northanger with son Henry and daughter Eleanor. Cat’s imagination runs riot: an ancient abbey, crumbling turrets, secret chambers, ghosts…and Henry! What could be more deliciously romantic?

But Cat gets far more than she bargained for in this isolated corner of the Scottish Borders. The real world outside the pages of a novel proves to be altogether more disturbing than the imagined world within…” (Synopsis taken from Amazon)

I’ll start by saying I love Austen’s Northanger Abbey. It is in my top three favourite books of hers and one I often re-read. I am always wary of re-workings of Austen novels as there have been mixed successes in the past.

I enjoyed Val McDermid’s modern day re-working of this classic. Moving the story to Edinburgh works well. The Gothic atmosphere of the old city is an excellent backdrop to fuel Cat Morland’s vampire fuelled Gothic romance fantasies. Henry Morland retains his charm and sense, Bella is as vacuous and self-centred as always and the General as conceited and rigid as he should be.

Cat has retained some of the annoying traits that are evident in the original, she holds on to the ridiculous notions of vampires and murder in a way that you wouldn’t expect someone who is nearly 18 to still retain. Some of this is explained by her somewhat sheltered childhood being home schooled. The childishness of this belief in fiction is grating, somewhat more than it is in the original as it would seem more likely that such believes would be held for longer in an age when the abundance of knowledge and the easy availability of it has rendered some superstitions and horrors obsolete. I think this is probably one of the difficulties to be overcome when re-writing classics in the modern age and isn’t any reflection on the author. However given it is part of Cat’s character and a driving force of the story it would be hard if not impossible to remove this aspect of Cat and the story-line and so has rightly remained.

This is a well written, fun take on a classic work of literature. The charms of the original shine through. If you’ve read Austen’s Northanger Abbey, give this modern version a go and see what you think for yourself. If you haven’t I’d recommend you read both. You’ve nothing to loose and hopefully the discovery of the joy of Austen to gain.


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