Book Review: Emma by Alexander McCall Smith


This version of Emma is part of a series that tasks modern authors to retell Jane Austen’s classics. I had read the retelling of Northanger Abbey, so I knew what I was getting in to. I have to say, I was still rather let down. (*spoilers ahead*)

Alexander McCall Smith is a great author, but this book falls short of being interesting. I had to push myself to finish it. I approached this book differently because I didn’t want to judge it too harshly against the original, but it still came off as poorly paced and not very complex or compelling.

Emma is born into privilege in a well-off country home. She goes off to school, comes back and that’s really where things pick up. It’s a shame that it takes 76 pages to get to a real plot. The first 75 pages are filler and setup. That’s far too much setup, in my opinion. I was fatigued by character and setting descriptions and back story.

Despite rather interesting back stories, the only characters that come off as fleshed out are Miss Taylor, Mrs. Woodhouse and Harriet. Emma and George are just blah. Sure, we get a few instances of George exerting himself and Emma being snobby, but their dialogue doesn’t seem special for being the two big characters.

The only bit of character development that was in any way intriguing was Emma’s occasional sexual tinglings toward Harriet, and those were never fully explained (unless you count her just being very impressed by beauty as tying that thread up neatly)(which I don’t).

The pacing of the book was also questionable. As I said earlier, it takes awhile to get past the intros and to the plot. But then the plot is still very slow to pickup, or even commit to a direction. It isn’t until 3/4 of the way in that it feels like anything worth reading is happening, and then it’s essentially time to wrap up the book.

I’m not going to compare this to Austen’s Emma, nor will I look at it next to movie interpretations of the book (although Clueless is still my favorite interpretation). I feel like this wasn’t a very carefully written retelling. I know the original text is a lot to live up to, but honestly, the other book I read in this series was clearly carefully outlined and felt rich with research. Skip this.

Emma (Pantheon Books) by Alexander McCall Smith.

-Admin B is a journalist, filmmaker and nerd.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: Emma by Alexander McCall Smith

  1. I suppose this book does require a lot of knowledge of modern English culture- living in the UK for the last ten years, I found his version of ‘Emma’ absolutely hilarious an d (at times) quite cruel! He definitely has the pulse of the silly fads and fashions currently circulating, Will this date the book? Probably, but it still was exceedingly funny. 🙂


  2. I totally agree! For a book called Emma, we heard literally nothing about her! I was so excited for this book, but just found it a drag to finish. I hope the next one is better, because so far The Austen Project has been a bit of a flop!


  3. I’m not sure exactly why these new “retellings” of Austen’s masterpieces are necessary – other than to make more money for the authors and the publishers. There was some talk about attracting a new, younger audience to Austen’s work. Poppycock: I was once a new, younger audience; the originals worked just fine.

    I haven’t read this book, but I did read the “new” “Sense and Sensibility” and “Northanger Abbey” – no more, I’m done.


  4. Read it. Agree wholeheartedly with everything you said. If you’re going to write a modern adaptation, commit and make it fun! It also seemed to get mired down in trying to translate Regency-era customs into modern day, instead of simply transporting the themes and characters across into more relatable times. Also, far too little George. His brother seemed more interesting.


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