The Emma Project

By Sonali Dev

**Spoilers**

Much of the appeal of Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors was the clever and insightful interweaving of the characters, themes, and plotlines of the Jane Austen classic with Sonali Dev’s own take on the novel. Between this one and the original Emma the integration is spotty at best. There are major plot lines and characters in both novels that find no parallels in the other. I won’t go into a long list here, but Esha’s strange supernatural malady and her miraculous recovery and romance are one. There was enough material and backstory there for it to be its own book. It was just shoehorned into this one and it was a distraction. It had no place in a homage to Emma and didn’t make the most of Esha’s story either. But the one that really hurt my enjoyment was how the Raj family are so ugly to Naina, the Knightly character. Especially Nisha, the sister of the Emma character, Vange, and Vange’s mother. I didn’t read the middle two in the quartet, so there may be justification, but since we see everything from Naina’s eyes and with our knowledge of her struggles, it was very bothersome.

Naina has been damaged by the lifelong cruelty of her abusive father. This has affected her ability to be open and vulnerable to love. She has dedicated the last 10 years of her life to rescuing the poverty-stricken women of Nepal and she has finally secured funding from zillionaire Jiggy Mehta. Enter Vansh Raj, whose chance run-in with a person he knows that he learns is surprisingly homeless spurs him to save not only his acquaintance but all of San Francisco’s indigent. While coming from a good place, this quixotic notion has jeopardized Naina’s funding. Instead of getting his own money, he latches on to Naina’s source. Because there is more in it for him to be associated with a real Raj instead of an ex-Raj, Jiggy Mehta cools towards Naina’s project. It’s really terrible. I was enraged over this.

Vansh Raj has a passing resemblance to Emma in that he is a do-gooder who wants to make things better for those who are less fortunate than him. Actually, there are quite a few interesting parallels. But Naina has very little in common with Mr. Knightly. Both Emma and Vansh are misguided, but in very different ways. Emma almost ruins the life of Harriet with her interference. Vansh, causes Hari, the homeless computer whiz he targets, an isolated episode of pain and suffering by not listening to the good advice of Naina (Knightly). But his interference ultimately saves Hari puts him on a path to health and prosperity. Sonali Dev’s parallels between Harriet and Hari are well done. (as well done as some of the connections in the first of the Raj series) but really, that’s about it as far as The Emma Project being a modern take on Emma. Perhaps there is a parallel between Naina’s mother and Emma’s father? But it’s is a stretch. A huge stretch. Naina is 12 years older than Vansh and has been a supportive presence in his life since he was a baby. So that hearkens back to Emma, I guess.

Dev makes Vansh the kind of guy who spends hours a day on his grooming and body sculpting because he likes to look good. Even though he is already too handsome to be true. We are treated a couple of times to a description of his long tangled eyelashes. And more than a couple to his cut and flexing muscles, which he likes to show off by wearing clothes two sizes too small. I mean yuck. It’s different if a great body is the by-product of manual labor or sports. But his vanity turned me off.

Another disappointment was the lack of satisfactory resolution to two important plot threads. The author meticulously details throughout the book Dr. Kohli, Naina’s father’s, evilness and cruelty, and Jiggy Meyta’s self-serving maliciousness. Not to mention their toxic sexism. I couldn’t wait for them to get the justice they deserved. Alas. It all happens off stage. We find out that Naina’s mom found the strength to leave her husband of 40 years in the epilogue. And the final straw after years of abuse was nonsensical. And Naina told Jiggy to take his money and shove it. We are just told that she did, but we are not there for the kill. Yes, I wanted retribution to rain down upon them and I wanted a front-row seat, but nope. And I guess Jimmy, the guy who cheated and wronged Hari never did get his just deserts at all. And speaking of retribution, Naina deserved a groveling apology from the Raj family. Instead, we get “I was a Bitch” and a “Yeah you were.” But Naina is not even in the room.

At times the sentence structure and word choice were awkward and confusing. I won’t quote specifically (although I can) because to be fair it is an uncorrected proof. But I noticed the same thing with her first book as well. And that was not an uncorrected proof. Ms Dev is a wonderful writer but needs a more vigilant editor.

Despite my problems, the book kept my interest. The romance was good even though it bore no resemblance to the romance of the real Knightly and Emma. And I gotta say there was a very hot sex scene that managed to be funny at the same time. I didn’t want it to end, and that is saying something for me. Thank you for that. The exploration and growth of the characters were well done. Vansh really grew on me, despite the things I didn’t like about him. I loved the way he and Naina learned to work together and became a united front against Jiggy. I was happy Naina’s project was saved. I liked the narrative voice. But there were too many promises unfulfilled and too many disappointments.

Thank-You to Net Galley and Avon and Harper Books for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

March 5, 2022

18 thoughts on “The Emma Project

  1. I went through your Jane Austen reviews. Scholarly!!!! 18 of them, the books being the most impressive. How on earth do you manage? Good gosh. This would make for a very interesting contemporary university course. This is something to be very very proud of I think.

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  2. I think that John Mullan could only be familiar with a fraction of what you’ve amassed on this topic!! You should contact him……..I believe you know stuff he’d be glad to learn. I believe he knows stuff you’d be glad to learn. Plus, then you can pepper your reviews with “as John Mullan, the holder of the Lord Northcliffe Chair of Modern English Literature was telling to me recently”…. 🙂 JKR doesn’t do emails or I’d surely have tried to contact her.

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    • No seriously. I’ve only reviewed 2 Austen books. The rest are just silliness, which is the way I like it. I know anyone of any scholarship couldn’t be less interested.

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      • No no! That’s just it. You have a remarkable knowledge of “pop” Jane Austen material(I can’t think of a proper label) that he wouldn’t be aware of and a big part of that debate was how Jane Austen remains relevant to this day because of the knock offs. It was a big big point and he mentioned Clueless, and here you can cite chapter and verse 17 more times. That was very clever about reading Persuasion and that it was amazing how the book followed the movie. 🙂 That is funny stuff! Ask him if he knows any other examples you could add to your collection or something. Flatter him. Fawn. I’d give anything if I could have corresponded with Robert Oppenheimer and Richard Feynman for instance who knew so much I didn’t, and I mean I REALLY didn’t. You at least speak his language. And he’s a teacher, which right there makes him approachable.

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  3. I’d be very proud to have a fangirl in the US, were I he. He writes books…..you review books. 😉 I’ve watched some of his stuff lately and it doesn’t do much for me. He was so funny and interesting in the IQ2 program that I got spoiled I guess. I gotta send one more off topic thing because it’s wonderful and you’ll like it. Maybe you could erase things that have nothing to do with your critiques?

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    • I read all of the sample of Caroline’s book and I’m transfixed. That was enough, I don’t need to buy the book now, and I hope you’ll read and enjoy it. It doesn’t take long. There’s a part where she’s describing(beautifully!)preparing the Great Hall for Christmas Eve and there’s this sentence thrown in…”The small black bats that occasionally flew around the top of the room were nowhere to be seen”!!!! That just struck me as so English. 🙂 If you read the sample and watch the video about the P&P ball held at Chawton House I think you’ll enjoy a very clear idea about where Jane’s writings were coming from. All this has been so wonderful for me and I really owe you!!

      This is the video. It’s so totally accurate and it’s on site and that makes it special. I think I need to read some letters and diaries?

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  4. Boy this is really off the wall but I was reading some early family history and this was written later about living in the vicinity of Bath, OH of all places 🙂 in the 1830s. I had an ancestor there by the way named Roxanna. Anyhow this would have seemed familiar to Jane and Cassandra don’t you imagine?
    I went to school the next summer when I was ten years old — the first birthday I remember was that spring. I walked out alone in the poplar grove close to the house and thought to myself, “Why I’m ten years old today.” It was a beautiful day and I celebrated it alone for we did not have birthday and Christmas gifts — the days were alike to us — not like “tis now with little folks”. One thing always afforded me much joy and that was rag dolls. Could have all I chose to make and build playhouses and all the broken dishes I could find. My sister, Emily, as I have said, died at the age of sixteen and we left her buried on the farm but she was removed to the village cemetery later. She was ill for two years and the last three months of her life was confined to her bed. I used to wait on her a great deal and she used to talk to me and tell me she was going to die and to meet her in Heaven. I remember her as tall and slender with dark brown hair and eyes and rather a prominent nose, was very good looking and a bright girl. What she gained in thus early going, only Heaven knows.

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  5. That was written by her younger sister who I believe might have lived until 1900. Death was always lurking back then. I believe the number one thing that has changed everything(skewed the actuarial tables at least) is the invention of antibiotics. The room Jane Austen died in is in a private residence and you can’t go in. I think they are missing the boat.

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  6. It should be a gold mine for the owner. Charging a respectibile amount for giving folks a few respectful minutes in a very real and personal place for so many. And it would be done brilliantly of course because they’re English. How about it’s only done by candlelight? That might be waaaay awesome.
    Okay, this adds nothing substantial but you do like Enlgish history, and movies, so….it isn’t totally out of place. Plus you’ll like it! 😉
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TpqwY7QL7r8

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  7. So cool. I believe you said there were two heavyweights discussing bits? Wonderful for knowledgeable people. I might try it. I’m liking the nephew’s book. At the first they are being clear about understanding the different interpretations. It’s a nice thing to be so interested in something that you really go after it. I’m getting a certain picture I’m sure……never having read the books. But I’m all up on her life and surroundings, the historical part, and the entire story is fascinating. Northanger is the easiest to watch.

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