On the Bookshelf...

Northanger Abbey


For Cat Morland life being home-schooled in Dorset is unendurably ordinary. To cope, she devours as many novels as possible, especially anything supernatural. But if Cat can tear her eyes away from the page, she’s in for a shock: the very stuff of her dreams is about to come true. An invite to the Edinburgh Festival from some wealthy neighbours throws her in the way of a mysterious young man, Henry Tilney; a like-minded friend, Isabella Thorpe; and her odious brother, who threatens to ruin Cat’s chances of adventure. But this heroine is not so easily deterred, especially when she’s singled out by the Tilney family to stay with them at their imposing gothic castle, Northanger Abbey. Turrets and creaking doors there may be, but in the depths of the Scottish Borders Cat is isolated from the outside world, with no phone signal and no internet. She’s all alone in an ancient abbey alive with old secrets and a family who are not quite as they seem. Is real life about to become more terrifying than the world of her imagination?

Northanger Abbey was originally a 'classic' by Jane Auten. This version by Val McDermid is a retelling in the present day. It's also my first book group read of 2023. Having never read the original, I can't tell you how close it is to the original idea. However, I'm reviewing it as I found this book.

Cat Morland, a young girl from a sheltered life in a village in Devon is brought to Edinburgh Festival by a local couple. Here she finds new friends and experiences. She soon meets the strange Tilney family, whom she suspects of being vampires. A visit to their home Northanger Abbey follows. With no Wi-Fi, this strange world fascinates Cat.

The book starts at a leisurely pace. It feels almost as we're experiencing the world through Cat's young eyes. The atmosphere and description is built up nicely, not rushed (contrast to real life). Cat makes friends with a girl her own age, Bella. It just happens that Bella knows Cat's brother, a coincidence? The book however never seems to get into top gear. I turned page after page expecting something to happen, but it never really does.

There's a lot of humour in the book, the writing is witty at times. Yet I'm left with this feeling that it was a parody on a YA novel meant for teenagers. Maybe it was, but it wasn't a particularly good YA fiction. There was too much teenage angst, but not very well done. It was also a bit of a class thing, endless cake and lashings of coffee, read like a posh Famous Five. It wasn't rooted in reality like a good teenage novel. There was no real subplot to make it interesting. I like YA fiction. I think most of it is the most cutting edge of fiction currently. Yet this book, I know it's aimed at adults, but it read like a cheap YA romance.

Rarely do I come away from a book thinking why I read that, Northanger Abbey is the exception. The book was a little too predictable. I expect I'll find out it's a very clever parody, but for now I'll move on to another book.

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Review by
AJ Steel
March 23, 2023

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