A modern twist on a Gothic classic

Volunteer Nicola Scarlett shares her thoughts on Val McDermid’s update of Jane Austen's classic tribute to the Gothic novel, Northanger Abbey:

While you’re forced into self-isolation, why not try a new take on an old tale? A few years ago, a number of well-known authors were asked to write modern versions of Jane Austen novels. Northanger Abbey was given to Val McDermid, a master at creating atmosphere, so a creepy Gothic novel was right up her street.  And update the novel she certainly has! Catherine, Isabella and Eleanor read Cat, Bella and Ellie; instead of a clergyman, Henry Tilney becomes a lawyer; and the setting is moved to McDermid’s home patch of Scotland – Edinburgh, to be precise.

It’s all about a book festival – I love that Cat is reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!  She’s on Facebook, she worries about wifi so she can check her emails, and she and Bella spend their lives texting each other – ‘Where r u’ writes Bella, ‘@bookfest. Where u?’ replies Cat, ‘Jst got bk 2 house.  C u @ bookfest in 10?’ And you just get so cross with them. They never put their phones down, they’re empty-headed and as irritating as Austen made them 200 years ago!

Cat finds the usual suspicious objects in the Abbey to scare her just as much as her eighteenth century counterpart did. McDermid gives us a book that makes you realise Austen’s original is as relevant today as it was then; teenage girls still love to be frightened by supernatural, vampire and zombie tales. It must have been quite a challenge for McDermid to take this on.  It can’t have been easy following in the footsteps of one of the greatest writers in all of English Literature, but she’s done Austen proud. I recommend a read of her novel, as well as, of course, Austen’s original.

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