Friday, June 17, 2011

Disappointed with Austen.... Rewrite (how can I be disappointed with Austen?)

Today, I decided to read Murder at Mansfield Park by Lynn Shepherd. I admit that I didn't even read the blurb, because I thought that anything Austen is good. However, I was wrong, and I'm going to disagree with all the reviews. This is why I don't like it:

All the Characters have changed. I don't mind changing plot (it's almost a given, and that's what actually makes it fun), changing background (if you need to stick the plot) - such as making Edmund Mrs Noris's son, but changing the characters of the characters? Then why do they have the same name? I understand if you want to make Mary Crawford the heroine, but why change her character to a good character? It's tantamount to writing a whole new book, but putting on familiar names. The characters did not resonate with me, or rather, they differed so widely from the original I couldn't find anything "Austen" about it.

Well, the language of the book does have the Regency era style, but it doesn't have the wit of Austen. Enough said.

I'm actually one of those few people who admire Fanny Price, for sticking to her convictions. Hearing her called "dreary and insipid" was, well, it made my blood boil. And even though the authoress did say she based the "new" character of Fanny's on a condemnation of Fanny as "a monster of complacency and pride, who under a cloak of cringing self-abasement dominates and gives meaning to the novel" by Kingsley Amis. Although "gives meaning to the novel" sounds like a pretty good compliment to me.

In fact, there was one character that reminded me of Fanny: Julia. That is so far off the mark it makes me shudder. I do, however, have to say that the re-write of Mrs Norris was masterfully done, and is just the kind of thing that I was looking for.

I can actually readsee my agitation right now. I didn't like the other characters because they were so clearly immoral. Perhaps for others, it's their 'worldliness' that makes them appealing, but not to me. I liked Fanny because she was a sympathetic model of Christian goodness (if I may go so far as to say). I admire her for the qualities others didn't: her patience ("insipid") and her morality ("dreary", most likely because of the play). The ironic thing is that the authoress unconsciously justified her characters by changing their characters. Which makes me wonder, why not make the selfish Mary the heroine the way she was? Or let the other characters stay the same? (Oh wait, she wanted Mary to end up with Edmund, so she had to make her worthy of him, not that his new character is as good as the old one)

Although, even the "new" Mary, whom I started mentally substituting for Fanny about halfway through the novel so I could read it, is still selfish. When she hears about Fanny missing, she actually feels regret that if Fanny ran away with anyone, it couldn't be her brother, because he "deserves" the money and so on. (I'm too lazy to dig up the other examples). So, still unlikable as ever.

My favourite character has got to be the brand new character introduced: Mr Maddox. Because I don't have to read him with the lens of prejudice, I can really enjoy how he works as a character.

And that's the biggest flaw of the novel. Granted, it's slow in the first half, but the plot gets much tighter and interesting once the body has been found. But I would have enjoyed it so much more if she just used a whole different set of names, since they're new characters, just use new names. It feels as though she's trying to hitch on Jane Austen's popularity to get a ready-made readership.

This post feels so bitter. I don't like it. But anyways, read this book only if you:
a. Don't like Fanny Price and don't mind huge character changes, or
b. Have never read Mansfield Park (seriously. This is a whole different story)

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