Monday, August 9, 2010

Review: Amanda

Amanda by Debra White SmithI am beginning to despair of finding an Emma spin-off that's really good. Old Friends and New Fancies was wonderful, but Emma was a very minor character, and I didn't like what they'd done with her. Mr. Knightley's Diary was unmemorable, Perfect Happiness was rather ridiculous. Amanda is... far from perfect.

Amanda, by Debra White Smith, is a modernized Emma, set in Australia. They've changed all the names, sometimes quite unnecessarily and in silly ways--Emma Woodhouse has become Amanda Wood Priebe, Harriet Smith has become Haley Schmitz. I suppose I understand the desire to distance it from the original, but in some places it's just not necessary. Amanda is the CEO of her family's international travel agency, Haley is her secretary. Mr. Knightley, who has become Nate Knighton, is the heir of Knighton's department stores. Ms. Bates, here Betty Cates, is everyone's cleaning lady. Mr. Elton, become Mason Eldridge, is a music minister at a local church.

In some ways I thought this was quite a good modernization. Mind you, I only ever thought this when I wasn't thinking very hard. One thing that bothered me was that the whole thing was very religious. All the characters were church-going Christians, and the book made this very noticeable. I wouldn't have minded this so much if it struck me as plausible, but it never did. I find it unlikely that these people, many of whom are not at all connected except by proximity, should all happen to be so Christian. I find it out of character, even, for Emma. Or at least, the Emma we know. She's presented as being someone with not a lot of concentration--she never finishes her reading lists, never sticks to practising her music--and I know from my own personality that it takes a certain amount of concentration to be religious. Everyone in Jane Austen goes to church, of course, but that was a function of the era, and it says something very different if everyone goes to church in the present day. I suppose this is just like that movie version of a modern Pride and Prejudice that was made by the Mormons.

The other thing I disliked about this book was that it told the story from multiple viewpoints. Sometimes we see through Emma's eyes, but sometimes we see through Knightley's or Harriet's. What distinguishes Emma as a novel is the way Emma tells the story and interacts with the narrator. Everything Emma believes is true is fully plausible, and the unspoiled reader knows only as much as Emma does. When you give the reader the story through someone else's point of view--you let the reader know very early on without a doubt that Knightley is not in love with Jane Fairfax or Harriet, for example--you completely change the story. Emma gets the title for a reason--not only because she's the heroine, but because she's the storyteller. I'll admit, the author was probably not trying to echo Emma quite that closely. I doubt she put as much thought into modernizing the novel as she put into modernizing the plot. It's interesting, though, to examine how those two things interact in this process.

Reading this has reminded me once again of my opinions on professional publishing vs. the internet. I have read modern Emma stories online that I liked far better than I liked this one (try this), and I'm sure there are also better sequels and alternate POVs. Jane Austen-related fiction is kind of a great way to prove my point, as well. It's not like most fanfiction, where what's published in print is original, and what's online is not. Amanda is no more original than any Jane Austen fiction on, and it is not necessarily better.

This is the last of these I'll read for a while, since the others aren't available from either of my libraries and I'll have to buy them if I really want them. I have to say I don't mind, as these books so far have been entertaining but not great, and I want to read other things. They have brought up some interesting thoughts, though, and I'm sure I'll come back to them.

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