I am the least likely person in the room to read a romance novel. Modern Persuasion didn’t change that. I have no prior connection to it’s inspiration (having never read an Austen novel in my life) and have never completed a romance novel outside of literature class. It’s not my thing.
That said, Modern Persuasion didn’t set out to make me a romance reader. It set out to be enjoyable and relatable. I believe it succeeds.
I don’t know the first thing about Persuasion, so I’ll talk about Modern Persuasion not as a variation, but as it’s own work. In terms of writing, it’s quite enjoyable. It’s written in a clear, smooth style, and the story moves along at a quick pace. It’s the kind of book that gets to the point. I found myself wishing for a sub-plot to break up the rigorous pace, but it had me turning pages either way. In the end, it didn’t need a long presentation to feel complete.
The story deals with a pair of former lovers being forced to work together. In doing so, they must also confront their regrets and re-evaluate their pasts. The characters are involved in the publishing industry, and the bulk of the novel takes place during a book tour. It features lots of behind-the-scenes information on the publishing industry, all presented with a the comfortable confidence of a good researcher. This author knows her stuff, and I thought the details regarding the industry itself added lots of tone and flavor to the story. It’s one of my favorite parts!
The main character, Emma Shaw, is not the type of protagonist I usually prefer. That said, by the end of the book, I was crossing my fingers and grinding my teeth for her. She’s got a strong narrative voice, and the reader has a clear idea of who she is early on: confident, professional, and totally sick of everyone’s drama.
She initially struck me as bossy and overbearing, but there’s a richness to her. Throughout the story, we see Emma’s vulnerabilities and insecurities bubble to the surface, but never in a way that makes her feel weak or too heavily deconstructed. Most importantly, Emma is starkly relatable. Though we may not be high profile players in the publishing world, we’ve probably all shared some of her anxieties. We may have had too much to drink at dinner and told our whole family what we thought about them, or said something embarrassingly stupid while trying to break an awkward silence, or even just stared at a letter from a lost loved one and cried. Emma’s story, while perhaps far removed from many of our lives, is filled with familiar moments. Those moments are where the writing shines through the best.
I struggled a little bit with the supporting cast. Most of them felt thin compared to Emma and her love interest, Frederick. That said, the story has a clear focus on Emma, who in turn has a clear focus on herself and Frederick. The story is told from a close point of view, and honestly, Emma doesn’t seem interested in the supporting cast, either. While I would have enjoyed more development in them, I don’t feel like the novels suffers for it.
I’m not sure I’d want to know Emma in real life, but I certainly enjoyed reading about her. As an adaptation, it’s hard for me to rate it. As an independent read, especially in a genre that I generally don’t enjoy, it’s a treat. My greatest concern lies in the irritating personalities of Emma’s family and other supporting characters, but I believe this is by design. Emma is tired of them, too. She’s ready for something else.
Will she get it? You should read and find out.
Please support Sara Marks and her excellent debut novel. You can purchase Modern Persuasion here.