Emma – A Modern Retelling

Hello everyone! I recently finished reading Alexandra McCall Smith’s modern retelling of Jane Austen’s iconic Emma. It has been on my radar since it’s publication some years ago but was one of those books that never seemed to make it any further – for no particular reason I hasten to add. So I’d like to begin this post by saying thank you to a good friend and fellow book blogger (who can be found at https://bookwormbloggerweb.wordpress.com/) for aptly gifting me a copy 🙂

Emma by Alexander McCall Smith

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

Jane Austen, Emma

So begins the original Emma, written in 1815, and though perhaps not quite as famous as the opening lines of Pride & Prejudice, it’s certainly not far behind. Alexander McCall Smiths Emma naturally builds on this initial character summary, while placing her in the context of the modern day.

Emma has just returned home after finishing at University. On the brink of the next chapter of her existence and her foray into adult life and a design career, Emma is confident in her both herself and her opinions, and intends to use this time to help others to be happy…in Austen context – matchmaking. What she doesn’t release is that she has a journey of self-discovery to undertake and that the summer contains some important life lessons, character improvements and maybe even a match of her own.

Austen described Emma as “a heroine whom no one but myself will much like“, and in my opinion she was right. Snobbish, self-centred, opinionated, meddling and controlling are words that spring to my mind. I’ve never really liked Emma, and Alexandra McCall Smith’s retelling does nothing to soften those distinctly disagreeable character traits she possesses, but rather accentuates them by putting her in a modern context. We then see just how much of a snob she really is, once she can no longer hide behind Austen’s melodic prose, her silhouette softened by the shadows of history.

And yet really, Emma is one of those complex characters you cannot like until the end, when her self discovery comes full circle and she humbly learns her lesson. And though you may not forgive all her meddling, you certainly see a more vulnerable side and perhaps understand her a little more. Austen liked her after all.

Modern retellings are a gamble. There are so many years of love, defence and history with a classic. But occasionally, a gem appears and Alexander McCall Smiths Emma was one of them. Austen is often credited with being ‘lost in translation’, but here she is beautifully, and thoughtfully, revisited for the modern day. The reimagining of all the characters in a contemporary setting was fascinating and I couldn’t wait to meet each person to see how they were portrayed – it was like meeting old friends…but with a twist!

Alexander McCall Smiths writing style is so relaxed and yet so engaging. He handles subtle irony with skilled dexterity – I think Austen would approve. My lips twitched regularly and I chuckled aloud on more than one occasion!

Happy reading!

Meg Readz xx

2 thoughts on “Emma – A Modern Retelling

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s