Northanger Alibi, by Jenni James – A Review

What qualifies a story as a retelling of a Jane Austen novel? Reverent adherence to Austen’s plot line? Faithful interpretation of characterization?  Emulation of her prose style? I asked myself these questions several times while reading Jenni James’ new novel Northanger Alibi, the first book in her Austen Diaries series of contemporary counterparts to Austen’s six classic novels. At what point does an Austen retelling diverge so far that it is not a retelling at all? And, more importantly, does it really matter? This led me to evaluate my Janeitehood. Am I a Formidable, or an Iconoclastic Austen sequel reader? Honestly, if you can answer these questions immediately, you will know if you want to read this novel or not. I could not decide, so I continued reading.

Claire Hart is a sixteen year old country girl from New Mexico whose never been kissed. Like any teenager she’d like it to be otherwise. She is Twi-hard to the extreme having read the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer numerous times, seen the movies and obsessed over its heroes Edward Cullen and Jacob Black beyond the point of redemption. She is confident that she is now an expert on vampires and werewolves and can spot them on sight. When she and her sister Cassidy are given the chance to travel to Seattle with family friends for a summer holiday she is ecstatic to be near the epicenter of the Twi-world, Forks, Washington. Her trip to the Emerald City takes an interesting turn when she is introduced to Tony Russo, a handsome young man who likes to tease her, is interested in fine fashion, uses the word nice frequently and according to Claire’s first impression is definitely a vampire. Next she meets tall, dark and overbearing Jaden Black who is Quileute, the same local Native American tribe as the Twilight character Jacob and therefore must also be a werewolf. Everything she experiences is seen through the Gothic prism of Twilight characters and she is certain that her deductions are correct. Her sister is skeptical until she too starts reading the addictive novels that Claire has brought along with her. As both of Claire’s new supposedly paranormal male friends vie for her affections, she must learn to distinguish between fiction and reality and to trust her own instincts in matters of the heart.

Northanger Alibi is a charming tale written for a pre-teen audience craving more vampire and werewolf fare after reading the sensationally popular Twilight series. As such, it gently mocks the genre and its obsessive fans while following its heroine in her first experiences with love and romance. The concept of combining Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, a parody of the melodramatic Gothic fiction so popular in Austen’s time, with the hugely successful modern Gothic tale Twilight was intriguing to me. The story had a promising beginning and then wanders away from Austen’s classic tale to the author’s unique plot and characterizations. Her hero and heroine do have similarities to Austen’s Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney: she is impressionable, naive and obsessed with Gothic fiction; he teases, likes fashion and the word nice, but beside a few other plot comparisons and character allusions, that is just about as close as it gets to the original. The ending brings us back to some resemblance of Austen’s story, but by then this reader was baffled.

Why am I picking at this funny and exuberant debut novel written by a promising new author you ask? Because of how it has been marketed. “This modern Gothic remake of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, with a nod to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, will leave you in stitches.” The Formidable in me must warn readers who purchase this book because of the Jane Austen connection that they will find very little Abbey in this Northanger. On the other hand, the Iconoclast in me admires the author’s energy and creativity, and blames her editor and publisher for not pointing out the egregious omissions and addressing them. Promoting this book as a retelling of Austen’s novel is misleading. Promoting this book as a Twilight inspired story for pre-teens pairs the author’s creative choices with her target audience. Northanger Alibi is a great concept novel and a fun read for those interested in Twilight, but not the most rewarding fare for the Janeite who is expecting more than a passing resemblance to the original story.

2 out of 5 Regency Stars

Northanger Alibi: The Austen Diaries, by Jenni James
Valor Publishing Group, Orem, Utah
Hardcover, text (310) pages
ISBN: 978-1935546153

Additional Reviews

Austen Book Sleuth: New Books in the Queue for June 2010

The Jane Austen book sleuth is happy to inform Janeites that many Austen inspired books are heading our way in June, so keep your eyes open for these new titles.

Austen’s Oeuvre

Pride and Prejudice (Fine Edition), Jane Austen

How many editions of Pride and Prejudice do YOU own? I won’t even begin to give you a hint as to how many are in my library. I’d be embarrassed to tell you. A dear friend recently gifted me another new hardcover edition by White’s Books out of London released in the UK exactly a year ago sporting an incredibly intriguing cover design by Kazuko Nomoto. It is even more stunning in person as the design actually wraps around the spine and continues on the back. I was so impressed I listed as one of my top ten favorite Pride and Prejudice covers to date. But what’s inside you ask? More decorative end papers, colored page tops, marker ribbon, elegant typeface, a text based on the first edition with minor emendations (R.W. Chapman or Kathryn Sutherland?) and thick, acid-free paper. Unique to the fine editions series is an “unusual text setting method rarely seen in the last hundred years. Each right-hand page sports what is known as a ‘catchword’: a hanging word that provides the opening of the following page. This aids the flow of reading, especially when using a larger, heavy page with a slow turning rate.” (Hmm? Not sure I buy into that last bit.) Weighing in at a hefty one pound nine ounces, this is not the edition you want to buy if you have carpal-tunnel syndrome, but it is the most distinctive edition available to enjoy prominently displayed on your bookshelf.  White’s Books, London. Hardcover, (416) pages. ISBN: 978-0955881862

Emma (Fine Edition), by Jane Austen, foreword by Andrew Lycett

Also in White’s Fine Editions series is this new hardcover edition of Emma with a foreword by Andrew Lycett and cover illustration by Amy Gibson. This cover does not give me goose bumps like the P&P edition does, mostly because it is too generic and offers no visual connection to the novel that I can think of. If anyone can help me out here, please have your say. I guess I am a book cover traditionalist. It should relate and enhance its content. Anyway, it is part of the set and will sit nicely with P&P and the other classics by the Bronte’s, Stevenson and Dickens offered by White’s Books. Publisher’s description: Emma, the comic and sharply observed story of young Emma Woodhouse’s education in life, is regarded by many as Jane Austen’s most perfect novel. Introduced to the reader as “handsome, clever, and rich,” Emma Woodhouse is also a spoiled, meddling matchmaker—Austen’s most flawed, and possibly most endearing heroine. Her fourth published novel, and the last to appear before her death, this lively comedy of manners is the work of an incisive writer at the height of her powers. Jane Austen is a renowned Regency novelist. Her other works include Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. Andrew Lycett is the author of Dylan Thomas: A New Life, Ian Fleming, and The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes. White’s Books, London. Hardcover, (384) pages. ISBN: 978-0955881886

Fiction (prequels, sequels, retellings, variations, or Regency inspired)

Northanger Alibi: The Austen Diaries, by Jenni James

A new author on the Austen sequelsphere is Jenni James, whose debut novel to be published in her new Austen Diaries series will be Northanger Alibi. Combining Austen’s early nineteenth-century Gothic parody Northanger Abbey with a modern vampire twist a la Stephenie Myers’ Twilight series, it  should raise a few eyebrows and our spirits just in time for summer light reading fare. The premise sounds like great fun, but as a professional bookseller I wish the cover was more appealing to the young adult (and young adult at heart) crowd that it is targeting. Publisher’s description: This modern Gothic remake of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, with a nod to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, will leave you in stitches. Seattle Washington, and the Russo family, are no match for Claire Hart and her savvy knowledge of all things vampire-related. Thanks to her obsession with the Twilight series – if there is anyone who would know a vampire when she saw one, it’s Claire. She’s positive that the totally hot Tony Russo is a vampire, and she just has to prove it! Follow Claire’s hilarious journey on her first summer adventure away from home, where she learns that everything isn’t what it seems, and in some instances, reality is way better than anything she’d ever find in a book. Valor Publishing Group. Hardcover, (310) pages. ISBN: 978-1935546153

A Woman of Influence: The acclaimed Pride and Prejudice sequel series, by Rebecca Collins

The ninth book in Ms. Collins’ Pemberley Chronicles series takes us well into Victorian-era England of 1868 continuing the story of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice characters with Collins’ new tribe of children, grandchildren, aunts, uncles and cousins filling out the bill-o-fare. The further that Collins has progressed into the nineteenth-century, her writing style and the logic of this series has grown on me. Like a cherry on top of the cake, the cover design is one of the most stunning of the season. Publisher’s description: Acclaimed author Rebecca Ann Collins once again turns to the rich tapestry of Pride and Prejudice, moving the beloved characters forward and introducing new characters into a complex social history of an evolving period in English history. Contrary, opinionated, and headstrong, Becky Collins – daughter of Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins – has always defied her staid upbringing with a determination not to submit to the pressures of Victorian domesticity and class distinction. She marries Anthony Tate, a man of wealth and power, believing it will enhance her opportunities to make something significant of a hitherto ordinary life, but quickly discovers that it brings her neither happiness nor contentment. Becky’s story is a glimpse behind the scenes of the complicated struggles that often lay behind the seemingly calm exterior of Victorian womanhood. Sourcebooks Landmark. Trade paperback, (336) pages. ISBN: 978-1402224515

Ransome’s Crossing (Ransome Trilogy), by Kaye Dacus

Last summer I read Ransome’s Honor, the first book in this series and was smitten. I am such a sucker for a Royal Navy man in a blue uniform a la Captain Wentworth from Jane Austen’s Persuasion or C.S. Forester’s Captain Horatio Hornblower that I am totally ready to nail my colours to the mast for this one. Publisher’s description: Set in the early 1800s, this captivating, romantic second book of the Ransome Trilogy from author Kaye Dacus unfolds with the grace, power, and excitement of an ocean storm. Charlotte Ransome, desperate to reach Jamaica to see her secret fiancé, disguises herself as a midshipman for a convoy led by her brother, Captain William Ransome. Meanwhile, William and his new bride, Julia, face the rough swells of the sea and of marriage as they try to adjust to life together. When yellow fever befalls Charlotte and her identity is discovered, she begs first officer, Ned Cochran, and Julia to keep her presence and illness from her brother. But could this secret create insurmountable waves between Julia and William? And will Ned’s tender care of Charlotte change the tide of her affections forever? This smart, engaging tale is about holding on to faith during the journey to love and be loved. Harvest House Publishers. Trade paperback, (336) pages. ISBN: 978-0736927543

Until next month, happy reading!

Laurel Ann

Austen Tattler: News and Gossip on the Net: Issue No 9

“All that she wants is gossip, and she only likes me now because I supply it.” Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 31

April 12th – 18th, 2010

Hot News of the Week:

New author Jenni James of Northanger Alibi, a modern retelling of Northanger Abbey influenced by Twilight, lands the Austenesque book publicity coup of the decade! Wow. This might be a first for Austen on TV.

Noteworthy:

Author and Janeite Catherine Delors features Jane Austen’s juvenilia The History of England and directs us to the original manuscript viewable online at The British Museum website.

The beautiful new hardback editions of Penguin Classics are featured in a Elle Decor article including Jane Austen’s Emma, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith.

Interview of Monica Fairview, author of The Darcy Cousins at Austenprose. Swag contest ends 23 April 2010.

Author Jane Odiwe of Austen Sequels Blog features a preview of the new debut novel First Impressions, by Alexa Adams.

Regency Mourning Fashions in England by Vic Sanborn of Jane Austen’s World is featured in the Suite 101.com online repository of insightful writers and informed readers.

Catherine Morland and Isabella Thorpe’s favorite Gothic novel The Mysteries of Udolpho that they read together in Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey is highlighted on Jane Greensmith’s blog Reading, Writing, Playing in a great post on The Gothic Novel.

Shameless self promotion here, but Maria Grazia has interviewed moi for her lovely blog Fly High. Leave a comment and enter a chance to win your choice of selected Austenesque books. Ends 25 April, 2010.

Another interview of note is of Vera Nazarian, author of Mansfield Park and Mummies at Jane Austen’s World.

Vote for your favorite Pride and Prejudice book cover from my top ten favorites. As of today, there is a dead tie between White’s Publishings lovely new release showing a graphic rep of Regency dancers from the waist down and the classic cover design by Hugh Thomson for the 1894 peacock edition of P&P.

Deb at Jane Austen in Vermont blog posts info on Soethby’s The English Country House auction results. Oh my. Beautiful Regency-era items, but the prices Lousia!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane invented baseball since she mentioned it in her novel Northanger Abbey. Doubtful? Read further proof in the third installment of posts by Mags at AustenBlog.

Entertainment:

British actor Elliot Cowan (Mr. Darcy in Lost in Austen 2009) opens in The Scottish Play in London next week. Read about the lore and superstition behind the Shakespeare play that we dare not mention.

The Jane Austen Story opened at Winchester Cathedral on 10 April, 2010. Read more about this new exhibit spotlighting Jane Austen’s burial place and life in Hampshire that will run until 20 September 2010.

The Los Angeles Times Book Festival has always been a lively affair and this year one of the guest speakers is author/editor Susannah Carson of the Austen anthology A Truth Universally Acknowledged that we reviewed and enjoyed. Jane Austen Today has a featured article on the the LA  festival which makes me homesick for outdoor book fairs that I frequented while I lived in California. *sigh*

New Austenesque Book Announcements:

A Weekend with Mr. Darcy, by Victoria Connelly — 16 Sep 2010

Book Reviews:

Until next week, happy Jane sighting.

Laurel Ann

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