Book Review: Off Script by Kate Watson
A modern retelling of Jane Austen’s classic Emma, this is a Hollywood-inspired take on the story. Now, before I start, I’m going to say that Emma was actually my least favourite Austen novel and in my opinion, Emma Woodhouse was Austen herself’s least favourite heroine. Pretty, rich and spoiled? You bet Miss Austen really quite enjoyed writing that scene where Knightley takes Emma down several dozen pegs.
That said, there have been some great retakes on Emma over the years, the movie Clueless being the best-known example, where Alicia Silverstone managed to charm all of us with her pretty, charmingly naive Cher. It’ll definitely help if you imagine the same actress playing the lead character of this novel with that same energy; it’ll help you like a character who could come off as a spoiled little rich girl a lot better.
This isn’t a straight ‘plug and play’ of characters from the original into the modern setting. Here Emma has an older brother, Harlan, whose best friend Liam is her love interest. Emma and Harlan are child TV stars growing up into full on Hollywood megastars, buffered from the real world by their wealth and privilege. Emma’s matchmaking is more targeted at helping people find stardom than love. Social media plays a big part in the story, and so does the very timely topic of sexual predators in the entertainment industry, as Emma mentors her assistant Brittany and explains ‘the rules’ all women in the industry abide by as a matter of course… but shouldn’t have to.
It’s easy to write Emma and her friends off as shallow and entitled, unaware of the real-world struggles faced by the rest of us every day, and I admit I struggled to feel much sympathy for her as a Poor Little Rich Girl until the big reveals started coming later on in the book. But come they did, and by the end of it, I really cared about Emma and wanted her to get her happy ending with Liam, who seemed like a real sweetheart.
The book does need trigger warnings for grooming, sexual predation by those in power, parental gaslighting and financial abuse. If these are difficult topics for you, you might need to give this one a miss, but I do recommend it as both a timely read in this age of #MeToo and a charming romance. Five stars.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.