Seeking Mansfield trilogy // by Kate Watson

This trilogy has actually been on my radar for a while, so when I reread Mansfield Park in March, it seemed like a great time to pick up this modern adaptation.  I’d been putting it off because it had been so long since I read MP that I couldn’t really remember the details.  At the time that I added this one to the TBR I didn’t realize that there were two sequels (or maybe there weren’t two sequels at the time… we all know how long books linger on my TBR lol).

  • Seeking Mansfield (2017)
  • Shoot the Moon (2018)
  • Off Script (2020)

In Seeking Mansfield, Fanny’s character has been updated to Finley, a teenage almost-orphan (her father has died and her mom is in prison) who has been adopted by her parents’ best friends, the Bertrams.  Mr. Bertram is cool but busy with business, Mrs. Bertram has some chronic health problems, and the four children of the original story have been reduced to three (although let’s be real, we didn’t really need both sisters since they act almost exactly the same anyway) – Tate (in college), Oliver (Finley’s crush), and Juliette (a total brat).  Finley’s older brother is a professional soccer player, so even though they’re close, she doesn’t get to see him often.  Shy and a little uncertain about her place in the world, Finley is nonetheless drawn to the theater (in stage manager/director roles) and is hoping to seize an opportunity to work with the prestigious Mansfield Theater over the summer.  Finley’s dad was a famous actor, so in many ways the theater is in Finley’s blood.

Of course, everything changes when teen stars/heartthrobs Harlan and Emma Crawford move in next door to live with their aunt and uncle for the summer.  Emma immediately sets her sights on Oliver, and Juliette is desperate to date Harlan, even if it means ditching her son-of-a-local-important-politician boyfriend.

It’s YA, so there is plenty of angst to go around, but overall I thought this was a really solid modernization of MP, despite the characters in this version being a lot younger than the characters in the original – the drama of the intersecting love lives actually fit the YA scene pretty well.  I felt like the essence of the original story was captured really well and enjoyed watching Finely find her inner strength.  There were a few times where the drama felt pretty over-the-top, but I was willing to roll with it.  It also seemed like there could be more/better resolution between Finley and her mother – I wasn’t sure how I felt about the whole “Finley HAS to visit her mom and forgive her” – it was just a really complicated and nuanced situation that felt like it was kind of shoehorned in for no real reason.

Shoot the Moon focuses on the oldest Bertram, Tate.  In Seeking Mansfield we find out that Tate has a gambling addiction.  When we start the second book, he’s going to therapy and meetings, but doesn’t really think that he has a problem, despite the fact that he’s also secretly running a underground gambling ring in his friend’s apartment.  When his dad finds out, Tate is in huge trouble.  His aunt Nora offers to let him work for her on her political campaign, where Tate also runs into his old crush/nemesis Alexandra.

This book was pretty terrible and I honestly more or less hated the entire thing.  First off, we meet Aunt Nora multiple times in Seeking Mansfield, and as the modernized Aunt Norris character she’s DREADFUL.  She’s constantly saying hateful, cruel things to Finley for no reason, is obsessed with political/societal posturing, and is just an all-around jerk.  But suddenly, in Shoot the Moon, she’s the good guy??  She’s the kind, understanding, empathetic relative who is the only one willing to stick her neck out to help Tate.  I couldn’t get over the fact that I spent the whole first book hating this character, but am supposed to magically love her in the second book AND totally support her running for public office!  Sorry, but I would not vote for this woman – she had ZERO redeeming qualities, but anyone who didn’t like her or who pointed that out was just labeled as someone who “hates women” and doesn’t want them to be in politics.  *HUGE EYE ROLL!*

On a similar note, we find out in the first chapter that Finley and Oliver have broken up?!  I mean, seriously, what was even the point of the first book if every single aspect of character development is completely mitigated in the first few pages of the second book??  There was also a lot of personal family drama going on in my life in early April, so honestly a book about a spoiled brat refusing any and all advice from the people who actually care about him, insisting that he has no problems/any problems he does have are the fault of his family and not him, and that character never really acknowledging that he said or did anything wrong just wasn’t the story that I needed.  I get that Tate is supposed to be self-centered and self-destructive, but I was really over watching him make the same mistakes over and over and over and over and then whining about how hard his life was.  The love interest, Alex, was pretty much just as bad – she’s completely self-absorbed and consistently a jerk, but for some reason I’m supposed to think she and Tate will make a great couple??  I literally never shipped them for even a second, and honestly wished that the story had ended with them realizing that they weren’t good for each other – because they WEREN’T!  This book was an incredible disappointment and I almost bailed on it multiple times.

And in fairness, I think I should mention that Oliver and Finley do end up together again by the end of the book, but they’re really just extremely peripheral to the entire story, so it just felt like Watson had broken them up so she could create awkward love triangles.  It was super annoying.

That said, I approached Off Script with trepidation, especially since it was supposed to be a riff on Emma, my other least-favorite Austen.  However, this book was significantly better – much closer to Seeking Mansfield in story quality – and ironically I didn’t need to have read Shoot the Moon at all in order for this one to make sense (although I would definitely recommend reading Seeking Mansfield.)  This story follows up on the Crawford siblings from the first book, and I thought the modern/YA adaptation of Emma’s character (and story) was done extremely well, with Emma Crawford focusing on the career of her new assistant (she’s so beautiful that she has to be a movie star!) and the Knightley character being filled by Finley’s older brother, Liam, who is totally fine with calling Emma out on her nonsense.  There was a lot about this book that I really enjoyed, although it did definitely go off into an extremely preachy/polemic #MeToo essay at the end that didn’t feel particularly organic or natural.  Like I thought the decision that Emma made to create the organization she did made total sense, but listening to expound on the evils of the patriarchy for paragraphs at a time felt clunky. I also felt like things could have been better resolved with her brother.

In the end, if you enjoy YA and are interested in Austen variations, I would totally recommend reading Mansfield Park and Off Script.  Definitely skip Shoot the Moon, though, because it’s pretty terrible and adds nothing to the overall story arc of the series.

Jane Fairfax

004

by Joan Aiken

Published 1990

Jane Fairfax was the second Emma sequel that I wanted to read.  I vaguely remembered reading it a long time ago, but really couldn’t recall any of the details.

I have always liked Jane, and been intrigued with her.  And to me, hardly anything illustrates Emma’s immaturity and selfishness more than her treatment of Jane.  And that poor, poor Jane must be railroaded into a friendship with the dreadful Mrs. Elton…!!!  Such tragedy!

Aiken does a truly wonderful job telling Jane’s story.  Her writing is very plausible, and the story intriguing.  And it is quite nice to be reminded that Emma was not the only heroine who was rewarded with a happy ending.

4/5, and a must-read if you at all enjoyed Emma.

Emma & Knightly

003

by Rachel Billington

Published 1996

So, part of the reason that I read Emma was so I could read this sequel (and Joan Aiken’s Jane Fairfax).  Frequently, Jane Austen sequels/rewrites are basically pornographic novels, which is quite depressing.  However, Emma & Knightly was a delightful little read.

Billington explores the the most obvious potential pitfall of the marriage between these two characters–the fact that Knightly has grown up regarding Emma as his personal young charge, to admonish and guide.  Through the story, they learn to relate to each other two adults, husband and wife.  Old characters appear, and even Mr. Woodhouse has his opportunity for romance.

I would give this happy story an easy 3/5.  It would be a 4, except for Frank Churchill, whose part in the story spiraled completely out of control–

Continue reading

Emma

001

 

by Jane Austen

Published 1815

So, I had stumbled across a couple of sequels to Emma and wanted to read them, but it had been a while since I read the original.  This old Dover copy (I love Dover books!  They used to be a dollar everywhere; I would agonize over which ones to purchase every year at the home school convention) is exactly the way I like to read Austen’s book: It’s just her book.  No notes, no one else’s thoughts, just Austen’s story, plain and simple.  Commentary has its place; that place is very rarely while I’m actually reading a story.

Anyway, I enjoy Emma, but Emma herself is not my favorite heroine.  I just want to give her a good shake most of the time.  She annoys the bejeebers out of me.  And while most of Austen’s other heroines end up understanding and working to rid themselves of their flaws, I never get that feeling with Emma.  Yes, she realizes that she’s an arrogant, self-centered, indolent person, but her regrets about not befriending Jane Fairfax, her attempts to make things up to Miss Bates, her realization of how amazing Knightly is–none of these things really impress me as actual changes in her character.  One hopes that she will go forward and be less annoying, but I’m not really confident about that.  Perhaps Knightly will have a good influence on her.  One can only hope.  But between her and Mrs. Elton (!!!!!!!!!! horrid woman!!!!!!!!), Emma is a book I pick up every few years, but not one that I miss in between.

3/5.