Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope

A couple months back, Girl with her Head in a Book reviewed the two books that have been written so far in the Jane Austen Project series.  She wrote quite favorably of Northanger Abbey (which I have on hold at the library), but was quite tepid about Sense and Sensibility.  Well, I ignored her wise advice and grabbed Sense and Sensibility on a whim, thinking, "What the heck.  How much can you mess up Sense and Sensibility?"
People, note the earbuds coming out of the sides of their heads.   

I must preface this review by saying that I don't really approve of Jane Austen re-writes.   I mean, come on people, just read the real thing!  Are we really so pathetic that we can't pick up and understand the originals?  That said, I like what the Jane Austen project is doing and I think that, in the right hands, these books have the potential to be an interesting offshoot of the Austenite movement.  But Joanna Trollope was not the right person to handle this book.

I started the book yesterday and at first quite enjoyed it.  It is definitely not deep writing.  It's rather chick-litish, but I stuck with it and read until about halfway through.  And then I stopped.  Here was the main problem- the story just wasn't believable and it wasn't just an unbelievable scenario, it was a poorly written unbelievable scenario.  And so I quit.

Trollope set this story in modern England. Elinor, Marianne, Margaret, their mother (named Belle in this version) are left penniless and homeless after their father/husband (but not really), Henry Dashwood, dies of asthma.  Their father's son-from-a-previous-marriage comes with his unbearably awful wife (I hate her in every version I have ever watched/read of this book) and claims their old house, since he is the rightful heir to his father's possessions.  See, Belle and Henry Dashwood never really got around to getting married, which, according to Trollope, means that Belle and her daughters couldn't inherit anything from Henry.  I have my doubts about this, but I'm not a lawyer, so we'll let that drop.  But really, Joanna?  It is 2014.

Marianne is the sensibility half and Elinor is the sense half.  Margaret is the rebellious little sister who, it appears, spends the whole book listening to her iPod.  Belle is drifty and incapable of getting anything done and Marianne has inherited her father's asthma and her mother's personality, so the two of them completely lean on Elinor, much as they did in the actual book by Jane Austen.  Of course, there are the love interests- Edward, the attractive, but obviously bad-choice John Willoughby, and whoever Marianne ends up with (I didn't finish the book, so I have no idea who it is).  I actually liked Edward in this book.  He was an attractively-written man and he was the only character that Trollope semi-successfully pulled into the 21st century.

The story was very poorly written.  Of course, there were the problems of settings and such, but some of the sentences were just laughably bad.   Take this quote, for example,
"Marianne was in her favorite playing chair by the window in her bedroom, her right foot on a small pile of books-a French dictionary and two volumes of Shakespeare's history plays came to just the right height-and the guitar resting comfortably across her thigh.  She was playing a song of Taylor Swift's that she had played a good deal since Dad died, even though-or maybe even because-everyone had told her that a player of her level could surely express themselves better with something more serious."  Isn't that just the oddest, most full of unnecessary detail paragraph that you ever read?

Now here was my main complaint about the book.  I felt like Trollope was completely incapable of pulling this into the 21st century successfully.  She basically re-wrote Sense and Sensibility by Austen with a little side-addition of some shocking drug-trading going on in the background and plenty of social media stirred in.   Seriously, the fact that everybody had an iPod and a Twitter account was the only way that you could tell that this was set nowadays.  Trollope very awkwardly kept drawing attention to the fact that, "See?  See?  Isn't this new and hip and relevant?  Everybody has an iPhone!  Didn't you just notice the fact that Marianne just played a song on her guitar by Taylor Swift??!!!!!"
It just didn't fit.

I think that, for this book to work, it needed to be completely rewritten in such a way that it only held very slight ties to the original.  If these books are supposed to be new and original re-imaginings of Austen's writing, then I'd like to see it.  Trollope just did not manage to do this.  And maybe part of the problem is this story line.  Maybe there are just too many archaic references and settings and plot lines to make this a successful modern story.

After I smacked this book shut, I pulled the Real Sense and Sensibility off the shelf.  Ahhh...what a breath of fresh air!  Nobody writes like Jane Austen and I kind of doubt that anybody ever will.


  1. I'm so glad that you thought the same as me! It was awful! And yes - Marianne playing a song by Taylor Swift was particularly dreadful - as if that compares to Austen's original character's sensibility at all! Vicki W pointed out in one of her comments on my review that almost more than any other of Austen's novels, Sense and Sensibility is of its time. The rise of romanticism doesn't equate to anything particularly in our society whereas in Val McDermid's version of Northanger Abbey, she has Catherine being a Twi-hard fan which does sort of link to the original Catherine's Gothic infatuation. So yes, Sense and Sensibility Reloaded is badly written but the odds were not exactly in Joanna Trollope's favour ...

    1. And maybe I should have been clearer in my review that I don't entirely blame Trollope. I'm certainly glad that I don't have the job of re-writing S&S!