In this modern version of the classic Emma, Alexander McCall Smith tries to imitate Jane Austen but unfortunately fails and the result is more a parody than a homage to the original novel. Nevertheless, Emma: A Modern Retelling is still an enjoyable novel featuring funny and ridiculous characters: Mr Woodhouse is hilarious with his constant anxieties; Emma just graduated in Design at the University of Bath and drives around Highbury in her Mini car while her sister Isabella is in London “more or less constantly pregnant”. George Knightley is the generous landowner of Donwell Abbey whose girlfriend left him for a solar-panel installer; Miss Taylor is a Scottish governess-turned-secretary; Mr Weston is a former rugby star; Harriet Smith is saving money for her gap year in Thailand; and Mr Elton is the rich voluntary vicar whose driving licence is suspended after a drink-driving incident. (NP)
Continuing on with The Austen Project, the latest Jane Austen novel to undergo a modern retelling is Emma. Alexander McCall Smith, author of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, introduces a busybody at the centre of village life. The summary says: "Prepare to meet a young woman who thinks she knows everything. Fresh from university, Emma Woodhouse triumphantly arrives home in Norfolk ready to embark on adult life with a splash. Not only has her sister, Isabella, been whisked away on a motorcycle up to London, but her astute governess, Miss Taylor, is at a loose end, abandoned in the giant family pile, Hartfield, alongside Emma's anxiety-ridden father. Someone is needed to rule the roost and young Emma is more than happy to oblige. As she gets her fledging design business off the ground, there is plenty to delight her in the buzzing little village of Highbury. At the helm of her own dinner parties and instructing her new little protegee, Harriet Smith, Emma reigns forth. But there is only one person who can play with Emma's indestructible confidence, her old friend and inscrutable neighbour George Knightly - this time has Emma finally met her match? You don't have to be in London to go to parties, find amusement or make trouble. Not if you're Emma, the very big fish in the rather small pond. But for a young woman who knows everything, Emma has a lot to learn about herself."