A Modern Retelling
The summer after university, Emma Woodhouse returns home to live with her widowed father and launch her interior design business. Apart from cultivating grand career plans and managing her father’s hypochondria, Emma busies herself with the two things she does best: matchmaking and offering advice on everything from texting etiquette to first date destinations.
Happily, this summer presents abundant opportunities for both, as old and new friends are drawn into the sphere of Emma’s counsel: George Knightley, her principled brother-in-law; Frank Churchill, the attractive stepson of her former governess; Harriet Smith, a naïve but enchanting young teacher’s assistant at the local language school; and the perfect (and perfectly vexing) Jane Fairfax. Carriages have been replaced by Mini Coopers and cups of tea by cappuccinos, but Alexander McCall Smith’s sparkling satire and cozy sensibility are the perfect match for Jane Austen’s beloved tale.
Praise For Emma: A Modern Retelling…
“McCall Smith brings all the wit and deft characterization of his No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series to this reimagining of Jane Austen’s classic. . . . The lessons and pleasures of her tale are timeless.” —People Magazine
“With his fluent, soothing prose . . . [McCall Smith] takes Jane’s characters and invites them warmly into our world. . . . We like his Emma, a contemporary small-town girl who worries over dinner parties, pours gin and tonics and drives a Mini Cooper—much to the delight of her friend Harriet. . . . Jane Austen is incomparable, but if she were still with us, I can see her hastily tucking away her handwritten notes and extending her hand to Mr. McCall Smith.” —The Washington Post
“Alexander McCall Smith and Jane Austen?. . . . A delightful match it is. . . . McCall Smith’s Emma answers many interesting questions, such as how Miss Taylor went from governess to such an important friend, how Mrs. and Miss Bates became destitute, and what sort of car Emma might drive (a Mini Cooper).” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
“[A] very pleasant modern update of Emma. . . . McCall Smith’s contemporary updates of Mr. Woodhouse’s hypochondria and neuroses are particularly amusing.” —Flavorwire (Staff pick)
“The Jane Austen we know is delicious enough on her own, but Austen filtered through the mind of Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith could be the best of both possible worlds. . . . 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. . . . This rewarding read is a fascinating pastiche of two of the most enjoyable writers in the British tradition.” —BookPage
“[McCall Smith’s] latter-day Emma possesses all the youth and beauty and a good deal of the wit of Jane Austen’s heroine. . . . McCall Smith has written a delightfully droll, thoughtful novel that reflects on money’s enduring role in relationships as well as on the nature of this meddlesome heroine’s long-lived appeal.” —Kirkus Reviews
“The keen sense of social realities and moral rightness that imbues McCall Smith’s novels is immediately evident when reading his Emma. . . . Surely Austen would be proud.” —Library Journal
Anchor, 9780804172417, 384pp.
Publication Date: April 5, 2016
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
Why do you think Alexander McCall Smith decided to revisit Emma, of all of Jane Austen’s novels?
Describe Emma’s character in this version. How does it differ from that of Austen’s Emma? In what ways is she “modernized”?
What is Emma’s position in life? How does this shape her worldview?
Describe George Knightley’s connection to the Woodhouse family. In what ways does he serve as a foil to Emma? How does that focus the bond between the two of them?
What is the relationship between Miss Taylor and Emma? How does this differ from the way it is depicted in Austen’s version?
Describe Harriet Smith. Why is Emma so interested in her?
How does Philip Elton fit into Emma’s life? In what ways are Emma and Philip alike? Why does Emma reject Philip?
A pivotal moment in Austen’s Emma was the shaming of Miss Bates. How has McCall Smith handled the Victorian idea of rank in this contemporary context?
What role does Frank Churchill play in the story? What do you think of the way he treats Jane Fairfax?
Why doesn’t Emma like Jane Fairfax? Is this fair to Jane?
What elements of Austen’s work have become more apparent through McCall Smith’s deft handling of the text? What nuances of Austen’s sense of humor and sense of morality has McCall Smith captured the best?
Which character has changed the most, from Austen to McCall Smith?
Who is the most amusing character in our contemporary story?
Austen seems to find Emma a little ridiculous. Why would she be unsympathetic to her own character? Does McCall Smith soften this? How?
Emma’s matchmaking has some serious consequences. How does her meddling go awry? How does she make amends for her meddling? Which things are not able to be fixed?
What is the most modernized feature of McCall Smith’s Emma?
Which parts of the story are new and how does McCall Smith use them without changing the general timbre of the story?
What, in the end, does Emma learn? How is it that she finds happiness?
Discuss your favorite change between the original and the retold story of Emma.