Interview: Scottish author Val McDermid on Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey
The crime queen has remixed the Gothic satire as part of The Austen Project
This article is from 2014.
'Dark, Scottish crime writer reworks Jane Austen. It's not the first pairing you'd think of,' admits Val McDermid. It is one, however, that works. McDermid – best known for crime thrillers like The Wire in the Blood and Cross and Burn – has just turned out a contemporary version of Northanger Abbey that's light, lively and full of the original's witty charm.
The second instalment of The Austen Project, after Joanna Trollope's re-tooling of Sense and Sensibility in 2013, it'll be followed by Alexander McCall Smith's take on Emma later this year and Curtis Sittenfeld's Pride and Prejudice in 2015.
Northanger Abbey may be Austen's least popular book of the four, but McDermid's update could help reintroduce it to a modern audience. 'It satirises the Gothic novel,' McDermid explains, 'and nobody really reads the Gothic novel nowadays unless it's for a university degree. We don't sit down of an afternoon with Mrs Radcliffe or Thomas Love Peacock. So it's very hard to get the point of a satire when you don't understand what's being satirised.'
Instead, Northanger's bookish lead Catherine Morland – Cat in McDermid's version – has swapped Udolpho for Twilight, and other vampire novels. And since Bath is no longer the place to go for ‘the season’, the plot moves to Edinburgh in full festival mode. Here, Cat makes new friends of the Tilneys, who invite her to their Borders home, Northanger Abbey, a spooky setting in which her supernaturally occupied mind goes wild.
It's an infectiously enjoyable read, and a real pleasure for McDermid – though she won't be changing genre any time soon. 'It was great fun,' she says. 'I feel like I brought a lot of good energy to it. It cheered me up, writing it. But I'm quite happy back in my comfort zone with this year's crime novel.'
Northanger Abbey is out now published by The Borough Press.