REVIEW: The Importance of Being Emma by Juliet Archer


The Importance of Being Emma by Juliet Archer

It is fitting that a company called Choc Lit produced this fluffy confection of a book, a modern-set retelling of Emma, as it is as sweet and light as a piece of nougat that melts quickly on the tongue.

Emma Woodhouse is 23, with a freshly minted Harvard MBA to go with her bachelor’s from the London School of Economics. She’s no dummy, but unfortunately all her business knowledge is strictly academic, and she needs hands-on experience as she takes over marketing for the family gourmet food business—and her brother-in-law Mark Knightley, an executive with his own family’s organic food business, is just the person to mentor her. However, Mark’s growing attraction for Emma and her self-satisfied mistakes complicate their business dealings.

The plot closely follows the original, and it’s fun to see the very modern aspects of marketing and business skillfully worked into the narrative. The secondary characters are all there: Harriet Smith is a temp with an Essex accent and tacky dress sense; Philip Elton is Hartfield’s financial director, and after being spurned by Emma, becomes engaged to Gusty, a nosy business consultant; Miss Bates is Mr. Woodhouse’s garrulous personal assistant, called Batty behind her back by Emma; Jane Fairfax is an intern at Hartfield; and Frank Churchill is a celebrity chef who had been raised in Australia by his aunt, and who distracts Emma with his flirtatious ways.

Ms. Archer is a talented writer and her prose style is definitely a big step above the average Austen fan fiction; the story is smart and funny and never overwrought or melodramatic. We understand she is planning modern-set rewritings of all of Jane Austen’s novels—we suppose a sort of more secular version of Debra White Smith’s series. For those who prefer their Austen paraliterature without explicit sexual content, there is a little bit here, but the book is far from a bodice-ripper, and the scenes are relatively short and tastefully done.

The only negative we can say about the book is that it is perhaps a little too fluffy, and the retelling is so close to Jane Austen’s novel there is little surprise or suspense for a reader familiar with the original; but it’s hard to quibble when the result is so enjoyable. The Importance of Being Emma is a fun summer book, perfect for reading on a hot, lazy afternoon. Like a single piece of good chocolate, it’s a sweet treat that you won’t regret later.

The Importance of Being Emma is available in paperback and ebook (PDF, Microsoft Lit, and Mobipocket formats, with no DRM, huzzah!) from Choc Lit. A sample chapter is available at the same link.