Book Review: Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid

This re imagining of one of Jane Austen’s lesser remembered novels by one of the best known crime novelists is part of the The Austen project and certainly adds perhaps more detail and depth to the story than perhaps the original has.

In contrast to Austen’s original book which was set in Bath, McDermid sets the majority of the action up in Edinburgh during the festival fringe. Cat Morland has had a sheltered life up until her wealthy neighbours the Allens invite her to come with them to Edinburgh, where Cat is certain adventures will happen. She soon makes friends such as Henry and Ellie Tilney as well as Bella and John Thorpe – but whose friendship is the most genuine?

McDermid is able to capture the wit and humour that can be found in Jane Austen’s writing, but updating it for a more modern reader. The trouble with this is that some of the language such as that used by Bella Thorpe becomes slightly irritating to read after a while – particularly the abbreviation of a lot of the words that she uses in conversation. This then in turn makes the character seem more ridiculous than gold-digging as Bella is supposed to be.

On the other hand, other characters come across as imagined. The obnoxious John Thorpe for example works perfectly as a banker used to getting his own way, Henry Tilney is the perfect gentleman and Cat herself is perfectly naive but soon grows in character after a series of circumstances.

It has to be said that although Northanger Abbey still has some plot holes that are more obvious in this modern adaptation, it still has plenty of charm and wit about it that makes it a joy to read. McDermid completely understands the style in which Austen originally wrote the book and the characters that she created.


It is a book that has been written with confidence,skill, faithfulness and respect that shows the author’s love of Edinburgh to the full. An excellent adaptation.

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