Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Disappointing Read

I was very proud of myself.  I saw that Alexander McCall Smith had written a modernized version of Jane Austen's Emma; I can't remember where.  I went home from wherever I was and opened the public library's new and improved website to find that there were 26 copies ordered, 5 copies in large type, and that I was the first person to put any one of them on hold.

 Three days later, an email arrived.  My book was ready to be read.  All I had to do was get myself to the branch and pick it up.  I finished the Anne Perry Christmas story I was devouring and found my book on the Reserve Shelf.

It was brand new.  I was the first patron to open the binding of the large type edition. It was thrilling. I am not exaggerating.  There's a wonderful frisson I feel every time I open a new book.  The fact that I wasn't paying for the book made it all the sweeter.
(Yes, I pay taxes for the library and I donate to The Friends of the Library, but no funds changed hands for the privilege of reading this particular tome.  This disclaimer is for those of you who insist that I care more about the story than the facts.)
The pages were bright white.  The binding allowed the book to lie flat on a table while I ate breakfast. I found no grammatical errors.

That's all the positive thoughts I have on this book.  I suppose it could have been worse; Emma and the Zombies comes to mind. But this was one time where I read quickly just so that the experience could end.

It wasn't bad enough to put down before I finished, but it came close.

This was a special disappointment, because I love Alexander McCall Smith.  I've never had this reaction to one of his books, and I've read them all.  It was totally unexpected and completely awful and I can't figure out why.  Smith has a deft and gentle touch when describing the foibles of his characters.  None of them are perfect, yet he loves them all.  Even the most selfish and self-centered of them are treated with respect; their depths are plumbed and we begin to understand the why's and wherefores, without anything being explicitly stated.

For some reason, he decided to take a heavy hand with Emma.  It reads like a romance novel. Emma's transition from brat to awareness happens with all the subtlety of a monsoon electric storm.  It flashes brightly from the page, thunking the reader with a sledgehammer of obviousness.  Jane Austen let it unfold slowly; Smith clangs the cymbals and rolls out the carpet.

Up to, through, and after this point, Emma remains unlikable.  There is no reason for Mr. Knightley to love her; she brings nothing to the equation.  She is thoughtless and rude, the beneficiary of a second-rate education.  She is dull, does nothing, and doesn't seem to mind.  While I'm not a big fan of Jane Austen's Emma, she's a rock star when compared to Smith's.

Read The #1 Ladies' Detective Agency, series, the Isabel Dalhousie series, the love stories on the train.  But stay away from this one.

You have been warned.


  1. That is too bad. Maybe he hated Austen and this was his interpretation of her book, where he totally lost what made it a popular book for all these years. I am not a fan of writers retelling someone else's story or for that matter of fan fiction but the publishing houses seem to think it's the bee's knees ;)

    1. It did seem as if he were jumping on someone else's bandwagon, Rain. Perhaps his publisher asked him to do one? This is the best explanation for such a waste of paper......


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