HarperCollins, £18.99 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop

Book review: Sense & Sensibility, By Joanna Trollope

This opening shot in a set of updates hits its target – but is the Austen Project really necessary?

Note the ampersand: it's Sense & Sensibility, not Sense and Sensibility. The Austen Project has commissioned six bestselling authors to update Jane Austen's six completed works. It's a project which elicits disquiet even though no other novelist has been pursued by as many fan-fiction riffs as Our Jane.

Irritation aside, Joanna Trollope is a good choice. A skilled, intelligent and witty novelist whose work is persistently marred by dreadful dust-jackets and sneers about "Aga sagas", she comes from the same kind of upper middle-class world as Austen. In this update, the Dashwood sisters, now an architecture student (sensible Elinor), a musician (Marianne) and a schoolgirl (Margaret), are forced like their Georgian originals to leave Norland Park because their arty mother Belle was not married to their father. It's a nice contemporary twist on the issue of male primogeniture which formed the basis of three of Austen's plots and, like Marianne's asthma, makes perfect sense.

Though brilliantly revived by Emma Thompson's script for the Ang Lee film, Sense and Sensibility is not one of Austen's masterpieces. It has an excellent plot and characters, but its prose is curiously inert because the novelist had not yet learnt to show more than she tells; you have to read it carefully to realise that, by the end, Brandon has fought a duel with Willoughby to avenge Marianne.

Trollope's possesses a talent whose fortes are in exposition thorough dialogue, and empathy: she elicits easy sympathy with both the freely emoting Marianne and the repressed, practical Elinor. However, the waspish philosophical wit Austen brought to her heroines is absent. Instead, we have deft modern touches. Marianne's utter humiliation comes not just through the passionate texts she sends her lover but from having his public rejection of her at a party spread via social media. Her fidelity to the outline of the original never deviates, though having Lucy Steele's sister Nancy talk like the stupidest Sloane Ranger ("Totes amaze…Hilar!") is grating. An amusing detail for the modern reader is that the pretty Dashwood sisters' benefactor in their upwardly mobile climb is called Middleton.

Trollope is wise not to tell us the precise age gap between Marianne and the ex-army officer Brandon. In the original, we surmise she is still a teenager, Brandon pushing 40 (not unusual for Austen's audience but distasteful to us), but a modern Marianne would find a man of 30 so. The genteel class Austen described still flourishes, and we remain as obsessed by the congruence of money and sex as the Georgians, although less comfortable in discussing the first.

All of this is ingenious but serves to remind us how much of Austen's genius lies in her style and elegance of mind. John Mullan has pointed out in the utterly fascinating What Matters in Jane Austen how she invented the style indirect libre long before Flaubert; when one comes across it in Joanna Trollope's heroines, its revolutionary nature is, inevitably, muted, even though the result is still a cut above the usual rom-com.

Next to re-reading Austen herself, I would far prefer to read Mullan, or indeed the great Tony Tanner, than any updates - but then I am not the target audience. If the project encourages the middlebrow reader who fears encountering the canon to tackle the real thing, it is benign; if not, then no harm is done.

Amanda Craig is the author of six novels, including 'A Vicious Circle' and 'Hearts and Minds'

Arts and Entertainment
Keith from The Office ten years on

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams prepares to enter the House of Black and White as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season five

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Albert Hammond Junior of The Strokes performs at the Natural History Museum on July 6, 2006 in London, England.

music
Arts and Entertainment
Howard Mollison, as played by Michael Gambon
tv review
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush in The King's Speech

The best TV shows and films coming to the service

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn