The Jane Austen we know is delicious enough on her own, but Austen filtered through the mind of Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith (The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency) could be the best of both possible worlds.
Smith’s Emma: A Modern Retelling is the latest installment in “The Austen Project,” which drafted six contemporary authors to retell Austen’s complete works. Here, he co-opts Austen’s titular heroine and introduces her to a modern setting, complete with the same plot turns and many of the same characters present in one form or another. Certainly unmistakable is Emma, Austen’s heroine, a born controller who believes (with unshakable certainty in both books) that other people’s happiness can be arranged for them and that she is just the one to do it. In his version, Smith adds a greater understanding of how Emma gained her certitude about her own ability to make her friends' decisions on their own behalf.
Smith assumes some of Austen’s tone here, and his fans might miss his singular voice. Still, the plot is surefire (and tested), and somewhere along the way, the reader embraces the concept in its own right. This rewarding read is a fascinating pastiche of two of the most enjoyable writers in the British tradition.