Saturday, July 17, 2010

Imitatation is the Sincerest Form of... Well I Don't Know, but It Works

Well... it's definitely been longer than I thought it would be before I got to this promised double feature.  I can only say, I'm sorry, and not only for the delay, but because I cannot promise the quality of this review will be quite up to par, since I've somewhat forgotten what I thought of the first one in the first place - the second is quite fresh in my mind (I wonder if there's a/1 who knows what that phrase brings to my mind - it's totally obscure, so I doubt it, but it made me smile) because I only finished it last night... which is why I can only post now... so with that in mind, feel free to continue...

So as I've mentioned, Paula Marantz Cohen's Jane Austen in Scarsdale and Laurie Horowitz's The Family Fortune are both modern retellings of Persuasion.  So there is no question that I would like both these books, since Persuasion is one of the three most romantic books ever written (okay, maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but it is *good* - which is why there are modern retellings of it (there's actually a third that I know of, Melissa Nathan's Persuading Annie, but my library didn't have it, so it's not being reviewed here at the moment)).  Anyway, I've read both of these before, I think JA in S I read in like 12th grade or something, and TFF a few years ago, and I enjoyed both so I was happy to read them again.  And I did enjoy them.

But here's the interesting thing - the first one I read, Jane Austen in Scarsdale, wasn't even such a romance! I mean there was a bit of a romance there, but I don't think I would have slogged through the rest if I hadn't enjoyed it.  But I did, thoroughly - the main character is a high school guidance counselor in Westchester, so she basically spends her whole life helping kids get into college.  I mean I definitely got annoyed with a few things about how it was written - one, that the author is not exactly a young thing, and it kind of shows in the way she writes about teenagers, and second, that I hate books that make a huge deal out of what college you go to and all that - makes me feel inferior.  To some extent, the book was making fun of the attitude, but I think it actually made a bigger deal of how these parents approach college applications.  But that was more in the beginning, and as I read, I think the book hit mostly good notes in writing a humorous saga of those tense high school years.  And I liked the main character, Anne, and I definitely liked Ben a lot - so it was good.  funny, romantic and good.

The first thing that struck me about The Family Fortune, as opposed to JA in S, was that it is really a carbon copy of Persuasion.  With JA in S, the main characters were basically the same- woman with mean father and sister, fallen down in the world, and the nice guy she jilted, but it wasn't like it was the same book.  But TFF took Persuasion and transplanted it from the 1800's English countryside to modern old-money Boston.  The back story here is the editor of a literary review, which wasn't quite as fun as the high school scene, but it was a much less major part of the book.  Here it was like, oh so Lindsay (aka Louisa) wants to ski the black diamond (aka jump down the stairs at Lyme) even though it dangerous b/c she's reckless.  And when they pass Guy Callow, (aka Mr. Elliot), Miranda (aka Elizabeth - I almost forgot that name - *blush*)'s old flame, he offers Jane (aka Anne) admiring look... tough I'm not sure Max, aka Captain Wentworth, notices... and it goes on.  The level of detail she manages to transcribe is fairly impressive, I think.  But interestingly enough, as much as the plot follows the original so meticulously, I have some definite objections (another obscure reference here) to the parallelism - namely, the characters themselves.  First of all, I think Jane's position is much more pathetic than Anne's - she really does just sit at home doing very little (I mean she has her work but not much of a life outside that) and unlike Anne, she did have a choice.  And the fact that she didn't take that choice makes her into much more of a decrepit old maid than I is, I think.  And then there's Max.  Captain Wentworth is a good match for a 27 year old, not in her first bloom, whose family was foolish enough to lose their money (not a direct quote, but that's the gist), but he ain't no Mr. Darcy. Max on the other hand... best-selling celebrity author who's also rather gorgeous? yeah, pretty up there on the the scale.  I mean it's not a huge deal, and it kind of makes the story all the more fun, but it was definitely a discrepancy in my book.  But whatever, still fun to read and I liked how it followed Persuasion so closely.

One thing though is that neither book came *close* the original in that *unbelievable* ending - but of course, that's not actually possible... given that "you pierce my soul, I am half agony, half hope" is one of the most beloved Austen quotes ever (and I know this because one time I saw a contest online with name your favorite Austen quote (I think I've mentioned it here already actually) and quite a number of people named that quote).  But in any case, it wasn't surprising that they couldn't equal that ending, but maybe they should have gone in a different direction altogether - since I should think it as possible to get Pemberley by purchase as by imitation :) (okay, okay, I know that was uncalled for, but I couldn't help it :))

Whatever, they were good books - and I liked that one of them was a minutely detailed update of Persuasion while the other one mostly tried to catch its spirit- more variety that way.  And they were totally different in tone as well, with JAinS much more humorous than TFF.  Both romantic, those I'd definitely have to go with TFF as the more romantic one, not surprising since it follows Persuasion so exactly.  But both good, definitely both good.

So verdict: 4/5 on both (I think I'm trying to reserve 5/5 for real classics)

And food... well good food - again, not 5/5, but good food - maybe like Hershey's chocolate - not Swiss, but I'm not going to say no to it on any day ;)

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