Blog Tour Review: Sense & Sensibility

I received this book for free from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Blog Tour Review: Sense & SensibilitySense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope
Series: The Austen Project
Published by Harper on October 29, 2013
Genres: Contemporary, Retelling, Romance
Pages: 384
Format: ARC
Source: TLC Book Tours
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three-half-stars

From one of the most insightful chroniclers of family life working in fiction today comes a contemporary retelling of Jane Austen's classic novel of love, money, and two very different sisters

John Dashwood promised his dying father that he would take care of his half sisters. But his wife, Fanny, has no desire to share their newly inherited estate with Belle Dashwood's daughters. When she descends upon Norland Park with her Romanian nanny and her mood boards, the three Dashwood girls-Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret-are suddenly faced with the cruelties of life without their father, their home, or their money.

As they come to terms with life without the status of their country house, the protection of the family name, or the comfort of an inheritance, Elinor and Marianne are confronted by the cold hard reality of a world where people's attitudes can change as drastically as their circumstances.

With her sparkling wit, Joanna Trollope casts a clever, satirical eye on the tales of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Reimagining Sense and Sensibility in a fresh, modern new light, she spins the novel's romance, bonnets, and betrothals into a wonderfully witty coming-of-age story about the stuff that really makes the world go around. For when it comes to money, some things never change. . . .

My love for Jane Austen’s novels had led me astray more times than I care to count. Even though I know better, if I see a book purporting to be a sequel to or retelling of one of Austen’s novels, even Mansfield Park which I don’t like, I want it. Even when the blurb sounds terrible, I want it so much. I fell in love with Austen’s characters and writing so thoroughly that I can’t be rational. That same kneejerk reaction led me to sign up for this particular blog tour, knowing full well that I might regret that decision in the fullness of time. The book gods smiled upon me, however, and Trollope’s modernization of Sense & Sensibility turned out to be one of the better Austen-inspired novels I’ve read.

Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility does have its share of flaws, but what Trollope gets completely right are the characters. With some of the characters, she stays very close to the original and to some she makes rather large changes, but they all come out with the same sort of spirit that they had in Austen’s novel of the same name. This, I think, more than anything else is why Trollope’s modernization worked for me. If you’re in this to see Austen’s characters in another time, this retelling will charm you despite its imperfections. Nothing ruins a retelling faster than a failure to truly understand the borrowed characters.

In this case, though I think Trollope got them all right, it’s actually the characters with whom she experimented a bit that I found the most delightful. Elinor and Marianne are quite close to the versions of themselves found in the original story, which is unsurprising given that the novel’s title speaks to the character of the leads. Their love interests too are unchanged in character and motivation.  With these central characters, Trollope was faithful but not daring.

With a handful of the secondary characters, though, Trollope made her effect clear. For example, in this adaptation, I adored the characters of Charlotte and Tommy (the youngest daughter of Mrs. Jennings and the daughter’s husband). In the film adaptation, the husband was portrayed by Hugh Laurie as a long-suffering, intelligent man tied to a gossipy, flighty wife. This, I think, is what Austen had in mind, given the number of connections made for money and not for love. Trollope gives both characters the same character, but establishes that they are happy together, not yoked. They appreciate one another and mock each other lovingly. This makes sense too, since by the late nineteenth century most people would be marrying for love and connections.

In general, I see this trend Trollope’s modernization. For all that Austen’s Sense and Sensibility ended happily, things are even happier at the end of Trollope’s. There’s a sense that even the bad guys have learned something and, while not quite as happy as the main characters, will end up tolerably well. I found this interesting, particularly in terms of Willoughby. This seems an interesting and optimistic notion on Trollope’s part that, with greater freedom in modernity, people are more likely to end up somewhere they don’t mind being.

All of that said, I do feel as though Trollope rather half-arsed her modernizing. She had good foundations for it, but didn’t iron out all the difficulties. The reason the four women couldn’t inherit Norland is explained by the fact that Belle Dashwood and her husband Henry never legally wed. The women’s straits are dire because the girls are all still in school (high school to graduate school), and Elinor’s the only one really willing to work. That seemed believable as well. Set in the higher echelons of wealth, the parental interference and desire for an advantageous marriage didn’t even seem that out of place.

Partly, the reason I struggled with the modernness of the novel was that the writing lent itself more to a historical setting, minus the occasional mention of an iPod here or there. I kept picturing carriages rolling up to a cottage and having to scrub that picture out for a car. Plus, not all plot elements were modernized. What were innocent flirtations in Austen’s become kissing and sex in Trollope’s, and yet everyone’s still getting married after really short courtships. While I buy that in terms of some characters, in a modern setting, I’m not sure how much sense it makes for Elinor to agree to marry Ed when they’ve never actually dated and he was engaged to another woman the week before. Elinor is ALL about sense. In Austen’s time, Elinor would do that because the connection was important and dating really wasn’t a thing. Modern Elinor and Ed probably would have agreed to date exclusively or to move in together maybe, but not to immediately become engaged. Speaking of, Ed being trapped in a secret engagement with someone also felt a bit outlandish in a modern setting, but oh well. It’s lots of little elements like  that which add up to me not feeling wholly sold on the modernization.

Depending on what your draw is to Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope, you might be tolerably well pleased. If you want something wholly unique playing off of Austen’s novel, this probably isn’t the ideal novel for you. However, if you want a close adaptation that makes some subtle differences, then Trollope’s is well worth reading. And, for readers who struggle with Austen but want to read her books, this is a really faithful adaptation that might be a bit more accessible to a modern reader.

Need a second opinion? Check out more reviews on the other TLC Book Tour stops.

Favorite Quote:

“You’re stuck with yourself, so you might as well try to be someone you can stand to live with.”

Tl;dr – Book in a GIFfy:

Why not read it and also why not look at Alan Rickman?

Why not read it and also why not look at Alan Rickman?

6 responses to “Blog Tour Review: Sense & Sensibility”

  1. fakesteph says:

    I just read my first Austen novel recently, although I read an adaptation last year that I loved too! I’m really looking forward to reading some more Austen this year.
    fakesteph recently posted…Crash Into You by Katie McGarryMy Profile

  2. alice-jane says:

    I’m a huge Jane Austen fan and I’m always up for a retelling. However, I’m not quite sure I’ll be reading this since the antiquated parts of the story are kept into modern times in this retelling. It’s good to know that the spirit of the characters still translated to the modern retelling, though.
    alice-jane recently posted…List of ThanksMy Profile

  3. I’m going to go feel shame in the corner because I’ve never read an Austen. I’ve tried but fail miserably each time.
    Dana (Little Lovely Books) recently posted…The One About Being a Whiny BratMy Profile

  4. Thanks for being a part of the tour! I’m featuring your review on TLC’s Facebook page today.

  5. Hrm! S&S is my 2nd fav Austen, after Persuasion. I j’adore with my life the Emma Thompson film version, and would have a super hard time not seeing everyone in it. Still, I love me Austen retellings — just haven’t ever read an S&S one. (Mostly I P&P retellings because I’m not v attached to the story or characters.)
    Audra (Unabridged Chick) recently posted…The Spirit Keeper by K.B. LaugheedMy Profile

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