Sense & Sensibility – Joanna Trollope

Yup, someone has rewritten an Austen classic into a ‘modern’ novel. That ‘someone’ being Joanna Trollope, an author I have no previous experience with but have never been inclined to read. No dragons.

S&S has been re-written previously, with the addition of sea monsters. I have not read this version but I am inclined to think I would have enjoyed it far more than this one.

I have to come clean before I actually review this version and admit, the terrible terrible truth, I have not actually read the original Sense & Sensibility.

NOT that I didn’t try. I really did. In fact it was so long ago I may have succeeded but, as far as I know, I have only read Pride & Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Persuasion. I have started and failed to read S&S, Emma and Northanger Abbey. Persuasion is the only one I actually enjoyed reading.

This is my own hang up with Austen – to me she waffles more than any other writer. Which is why Persuasion, such a little, sweet novel, is my favourite because she hardly wastes time on unnecessary description or life histories. It didn’t harm the story by having the TV adaptation star Rupert Penry-Jones either.

What I can say, in favour to Trollope, is that the waffle is not as evident to me as with Austen’s original text. Regardless I really feel this modern adaptation would have been better off set 20 years ago than ‘today’, because ‘today’ will always be out of date tomorrow.

The ‘totes amaze’ language and the references to iPods and the Greek financial struggles are pithy but already stale. And, above all else, apart from these references there wasn’t a new thing to be added to the story. They are still a group of four women who are unceremoniously kicked out of their stately home by their sister-in-law after the death of the father.

The mother is painted as more eccentric and dappy than I have ever seen her; Marianne is now an asthmatic to explain how delicate she is and why a forty-something would want to swoop in and save her; Elinor a practical woman who now has half a degree in architecture; and Margaret is a sulky teenager who has lost her sense of adventure and replaced it with twitter and Facebook.

Hardly an ambitious re-imagining of characters.

The real problem is that, in its present-day setting, the characters are harder to relate to or feel sorry for. Part of the magic and enduring romanticism of Austen’s characters are that they live in a world that 99% of the population have only read about, so you don’t need to relate to the characters – you just have to like them.

Unfortunately, in our times of austerity, reading about over-privileged young men and women squandering money does not make you like any of them in particular. Apart from Elinor of course, she will always be an enduringly good character you want to succeed.

I love this story, but feel like Trollope didn’t really try with it. I prefer imagination and someone to shock me with a re-write rather than just update it. I’m sure it took time and a lot of effort, but I much prefer the corsets and bonnets of early 19th century society to the blackberry’s and social media of today.

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