Saturday, 19 July 2014

Sense and Sensibility - Joanna Trollope

I remember much hype when the book came out, but bided my time and procured the copy from the library instead of rushing to purchase my own.

I am glad I did

The book is a modern retelling of the Jane Austen classic by the same name. I haven't read the original although I have read her more famous Pride and Prejudice and Emma and know of Austen's style and themes.

In the absence of a male heir, three sisters, Elinor, Marianne and Margaret are ousted out of their mansion with their mother Belle after the death of their father. The implications of having to fend for themselves does not affect Belle or Marianne. It falls upon Elinor, the sensible one to take over the reins of the family. She is the rock while flighty Marianne is caught in a disasterous romantic encounter and youngest sister Margaret at 15, is a typical teenager, coping with the changes all round her. This novel is in a sense, a coming of age novel where there these girls grow up and finally get their priorities right.

What works:
  • Joanna Trollope is a great writer and her accolades of the previous 17 novels shine through this one.
  • She has stuck to the original story (I have seen a tamil movie based on the same storyline) and endows it with the richness of texts, social media and mobile phones to give it a modern feel.
  • She has also added her own touch to the story, through dialogues which are sparse in Jane Austen novels. This modern device, I felt, was her way of making a contribution, giving it a very contemporary feel. I never cared for the Jane Austen's style much, where the narrator does all all the talking of letting the characters do it for themselves, which was quite annoying.

What doesn't:
  • It was a bit depressing that though Trollope had handled the story well, it was the same old-girls looking-for-right-boys-to-end-up with story. It was a bit tiring to be honest, seeing girls pining for guys, working out their level of commitment through their actions. More often than not, I found myself rushing through the lines in an attempt to cut through the candy floss. It was OK in Jane Austen's time but reading the same in 2014 makes it horribly dated.
  • The story is boringly predictable. Trollope follows the plot to the letter and in the process does not leave her signature on it. Her forte is domestic situations and it is easy to see why she was commissioned to rewrite, but there is nothing new except for a few stylistic alterations and the inclusion of technology in the plot.
  • A significant point is when Belle admonishes Mrs Jennings that she is sounding like a 19th century novel where girls main career ambition is to get married to rich guys. However, Mrs Jennings retorts that you think things are changed but they haven't ...well, it was kind of depressing to read it. I remember a guardian review highlighting the same lines making it sound like Trollope feels that Austen's way of life holds true even today.
No chance, Ms Trollope. Totally disagree.

In a nutshell, I did not like the book and don't know how Austen fans reacted to it. Trollope is very good at highlighting social nuances and has an eye for bringing out the subtleties in domestic situations. However, this is an ambitious project and it will always be difficult to measure up to Austen's popularity and standards.

But I see it as an independent work and I was not impressed. I would give this one a miss.

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