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22 October 2013

Review: 'Sense and Sensibility' by Joanna Trollope (2013)

From one of the most insightful chroniclers of family life working in fiction today comes a contemporary retelling of Jane Austen's classic novel of love, money, and two very different sisters.

John Dashwood promised his dying father that he would take care of his half sisters. But his wife, Fanny, has no desire to share their newly inherited estate with Belle Dashwood's daughters. When she descends upon Norland Park with her Romanian nanny and her mood boards, the three Dashwood girls-Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret-are suddenly faced with the cruelties of life without their father, their home, or their money.

As they come to terms with life without the status of their country house, the protection of the family name, or the comfort of an inheritance, Elinor and Marianne are confronted by the cold hard reality of a world where people's attitudes can change as drastically as their circumstances.

I like to think of myself as a true Janeite; a big fan of absolutely anything related to Jane Austen. I’ve been fascinated by her work since I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ when I was 15 years old, which eventually led to me writing two master theses at university about her work. I have a large collection of all kinds of Austen adaptations, which is why it’s no surprise I got really excited as soon as I heard about Harper Collins’ The Austen Project. For this particular project, six bestselling contemporary authors will rewrite one of Jane Austen’s works, giving their own unique twist to it. The first author to take on this challenge is Joanna Trollope, who wrote 17 bestselling novels, and the story she took on is Jane Austen’s second novel, ‘Sense and Sensibility.’ I was so excited when I managed to get a review copy of the novel, which will be released on the 24th of October (click here to pre-order it on Amazon), and I couldn’t wait to get back to this Austen classic and see what Joanna Trollope had done with it!

‘Sense and Sensibility’ tells the story of the three Dashwood sisters: Elinor, the oldest and most sensible sister who studies Architecture; Marianne, the emotional and slightly dramatic middle sister who adores music; and Margaret, the youngest Dashwood who is slowly turning into a typical modern-day teenager. Due to family circumstances, the Dashwood girls and their mother Belle can’t stay in their beloved house, Norland. Money is tight and they are forced to take on a generous offer from a relative, which means moving to a small cottage in Devonshire. The girls have to get used to their new home while life continues to go on around them, which includes incredibly curious and money-obsessed family members and a fair amount of romance trouble…

Reimaginings of classic tales such as this one usually have a divided audience: there are those people who think you should never touch a literary classic and those who are curious to see what an author decides to do with a novel they either loved or hated. I personally love the fact that Austen’s stories continue to live on in different shapes and sizes, and of course there are some retellings which I didn’t particularly like, but Joanna Trollope’s 'Sense and Sensibility’ is definitely not one of them. I really enjoyed how she managed to bring this classic novel into the modern day and age, changing certain elements to give it that modern touch, but at the same time also sticking to a slightly old-fashioned feel, reminding readers of the origin of the story. The topics of the book are still as relevant today (money, family, love), but perhaps in a different light. Yes,  Joanna Trollope could have made the story more modern than she decided to do, but I liked the mix of modern and old and appreciate how she decided to stay relatively close to the Austen original.

Joanna Trollope’s writing is amazing and it absorbed me completely; even though I haven’t read any of her other novels before, I can definitely understand why she’s a bestselling author. I really enjoyed what was done with the characters: I instantly warmed to Elinor and got slightly annoyed by Marianne (the same feelings I had when reading the original novel), and I specifically liked the character developments of Margaret and Bill Brandon, which really added another layer to the story for me. This version of ‘Sense and Sensibility’ is an engaging, timeless and delightful retelling of an Austen original, and Joanna Trollope has proven this classic is in very capable and safe hands. The fact that this is only the first Austen Project novel is getting me incredibly excited about what is still to come! 


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