Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

Prawn and Prejudice @ Salcombe

on August 20, 2010

This spoof novel by Belinda Roberts is my final non-Austen read for the Jane Austen challenge.  It’s a reimagining of the events of Pride and Prejudice set in modern-day Salcombe in Devon, in which the characters are supposed to be descendants of those in the original P&P, although they have exactly the same names apart from a few, whose names have been abbreviated – “Lottie” Lucas and “Chas”, “Cazza” and “Lulu” Bingley (… and “Hattie” Bingley – where did she come from, and why?  Obviously I haven’t yet reached my 2010 re-read of Pride and Prejudice but having done it for “A” level, read it several times since then, seen 4 film/TV adaptations and a stage play and been to a P&P party, you’d think I’d remember if she was in the original).

I was looking forward to reading this book because it had been recommended to me on Amazon and I’d read some great reviews but,  having finished it this morning, I have to say I have mixed feelings about it.

The premise is a good one – take an established classic which satirises the society of its time  and update it to poke fun at the upper-middle classes and above who frequent fashionable spots on the south coast during the summer.  Some of this is done to great effect and there are some excellent scenes which have been completely modernised or imagined by Roberts herself, such as Mr Collins’ attempt to make a formal speech and the meal table and ending up reciting the Prayer of Humble Access from the Communion Liturgy (although I wasn’t sure how believable I found it that a character such as Lydia would recognise it sufficiently to make a joke at his expense – she doesn’t strike me as a church-goer).  The use of University College, Durham as Pemberley was inspired, imbued as it is with all the tradition of a stately home but at the same time being a real home to students during term-time and I loved the updating of Lydia and Wickham’s elopement to Lydia’s spell as a pole dancer in Newquay!  A lot of work had obviously gone into reimagining some of the characters too:  Aunt Gardiner a fun-loving pool-player; Lady Catherine a hi-tech, self-obsessed, mutton dressed as lamb with a couch-potato, Wii-playing daughter; Sir William Lucas as an officious former health and safety officer (a kind of modern-day Mr Woodhouse from Emma); Mr Collins as an overweight, slightly lecherous buffoon (OK, probably not much imagination needed for that one!); the militia as a troupe of lifeguards on training manoeuvres.

But by contrast, other sections seemed not have had any time spent on them at all.  Speech, in the main, seemed to be lifted directly from the original, which sat at odds with the updated background descriptions and some of the characters didn’t seem to have first names (e.g.  Mr Hurst, who in this version is Hattie’s boyfriend – if you can make up a whole character surely you can make up a first name for an existing character).   Other passages seemed bizarre and unnecessary (Darcy’s knocking Lizzie out with a stone around which he had wrapped a note, for example) and made me slightly out of patience with the book.

Perhaps the mistake I made was reading it so soon after Lady Susan because the close comparison with Austen herself didn’t show it in a very good light.  It’s a light, amusing read which will appeal slightly more to those who have read the original (or seen the 1995 BBC adaptation, which would amply equip anyone to pick up the references) and probably still more to those who know the town of Salcombe (I don’t, so can’t say for sure).  In fact, even Bingley would enjoy it, despite not being much into reading himself.  As he says (my favourite line from this book): “I am afraid I am not a great reader myself so have only a few classics for you to peruse – Dahl, Potter, Blyton – the usual stuff.”

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