Summer of Secrets by Rosie Rushton
Reading Challenge: A book that takes place during summer
Retellings are the blessing and the curse of my reading life. I love a riff on a classic story if it’s done well (for example, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club), but it’s absolute nails on a chalkboard if done poorly (I know I keep ripping on this one, but man, I hate The Family Fortune a lot. You lost me when you put the Boston landmark steaming teakettle in Kenmore instead of Scollay Square, lady, and you lost me and ran off without me when you insisted that a character “spoke like she was from the nineteenth century” for no other reason than to excuse the stilted language you were shoving in her mouth). But what makes a good retelling is a bit of a puzzle. I think it has to contain the right mix of elements from the original story and new pieces. It HAS to stand on its own. But probably what makes a good retelling is individual to the reader, and what he or she thinks are the crucial elements of the original.
So that brings me to Summer of Secrets. I read Rosie Rushton’s adolescent take on Sense and Sensibility, The Dashwood Sisters’ Secrets of Love, years ago, and remembered it being pretty decent. Then I found out a few weeks ago that this was one of a series, that Rosie Rushton had gone and done ALL the complete Austens as contemporary teen novels. I was intrigued, and sad when I realized only the first book is easy to find on this side of the pond. I was particularly intrigued to investigate the take on Northanger Abbey, which has been more or less left alone by avid retellers, and eventually tracked it down on Amazon.
And it’s a cute little book! Nothing life-changing, but more or less accomplishes what it sets out to do. Mr. Drinking-and-Ink and I were talking, and we agreed it makes sense for a contemporary Austen retelling to be about teenagers. Who else would have that much free time on their hands, and who else would care so deeply about social position? Catherine Morland, of all of Austen’s heroines, is a profoundly adolescent character, and Caitlin Morland, in spite of having something close to a celebrity name (is Caitlin Moran a celebrity?), is a fair update of her. Having much of the book be about her friendship with Miss Tilney (here named Summer, and yes, I’d say that’s part of the title) was I thought a very solid choice. Everything in the book was bubbly and light-hearted, even the serious bits, and although I guessed the truth about the Tilneys’ mother quickly, I didn’t mind it. Caitlin also manages not to make as much of an idiot out of herself as Catherine, the original, does, and the part of me that cringes in sympathy watching people do stupid things really didn’t mind that, either.
There were some things I did mind. Caitlin spent almost no time with her love interest, so when they finally got together, my apathy was palpable. Caitlin’s mother seemed sort of off-handedly cruel and I’m not sure she was meant to be. She’s described as an “earth mother” but refers to her daughter as “chunky” and calls her “naive” multiple times to her face. Is this a British thing I’m missing? Or maybe I’m just sensitive because when I was a teenager, people called me both of those things (but I’d like to point out my mother was not one of them, because she’s my mother). There was a last minute twist that turned out not to be a twist – and if that sounds dumb, it’s because it was.
But overall, this was fun, frothy, and full of British adolescent slang, which is always entertaining as far as I’m concerned. Will this book remain with me a long time? No, but it could be worse. I still remember just how I felt reading The Family Fortune. There are worse things than not leaving much of an impact.
Recommended pairing: Clearly champagne, but you’re going to have to choose your own because I don’t know a thing about champagne.