Emma (Smith) – Review

Alexander McCall Smith. Emma. Prince Frederick MD: Recorded Books, 2015. CD-ROM.

Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books which we like so much. Here he retells the Jane Austen story with a modern cast of characters. I cannot say that it is really a modern setting, since the rural setting is very similar to the original.

Emma Woodhouse is the somewhat spoiled daughter of a landed property owner. Like the original, Mr. Woodhouse is a hypochondriac, only with modern diseases and all we now know about microbes and nutrition, he is a much more fully developed character.

The names have rarely been changed. In the modern setting Frank Churchill was raised in Australia and Harriet works for an aging hippie teaching English to foreign students, mostly from Italy and Poland. There are no gypsies. There are some drugs rather than fortune tellers. It also seems that everyone goes on a honeymoon before they get married. Even in America, many couples “live together” first, but Smith would have us believe that the English take it a step further.

Still, this is a lot of fun. Emma was certainly Austen’s funniest novel, and with Smith’s modern perspective, the retelling is even funnier. To use the title of another Emma retelling, our modern Emma is probably more clueless than the original. Because of that, the Emma-Knightley relationship is not as developed as in the original, but we still get a kick out of nearly everything that goes on. Those who know the story will still relish the dramatic irony.

A pattern we have noticed with most of Smith’s other novels is that he loves his characters. He loves the ladies of the detective agency and the men of Speedy Motors. Here he really enjoys the characters he has re-created, and once again the love and joy comes through. Smith has a knack for making readers happy.

We listened to this on the audio book. Susan Lyons does a delightful job of reading. In an auto or to rest the eyes, that is not a bad way to take the story in.

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