The Dashwood children – Elliott, Marianne and Greta – have lived a happy and privileged life in the comfortable setting of their family home, Norland Park. That changes with the death of their father, Henry. They’re thrown out of the house and forced to relocate to the small California town of Barton Lake, where they have to cope with a vastly diminished income. If that’s not enough upheaval, Elliott’s life is further complicated by his sudden and unexpected attraction to Ned Ferrars, the younger brother of Henry Dashwood’s first wife. Try as he might to tell himself it’s just a fling, Elliott is soon in much deeper than he ever dreamed…
Modern retellings of classic novels always run the risk of being nothing more than a lazy piggybacking off a previously established plot and characters. When they’re done right, though, as in The California Dashwoods, they can breathe new life into a well-loved story. It’s roughly a thousand years since I read Jane Austen’s Sense And Sensibility, the novel on which this book is based, so I didn’t have a mental checklist of all the plot beats The California Dashwoods should hit. However, I think those who cherish the original, and who are fans of M/M romance, won’t be disappointed with the way Lisa Henry tackles the material. And it’s also very easy to come to this book knowing nothing about Sense And Sensibility and enjoy every moment of the tale it tells.
The author has obviously had a lot of fun gender-flipping various characters while retaining the basic premise of two siblings, one quiet and sensible and the other wild and impulsive, negotiating the tricky waters of love and relationships. Elliott, the responsible one, is keen to hold things together for his mother’s sake, while Marianne plunges headlong into a whirlwind romance with a man who might not be the best choice. Much of the social minefield and layers of status that informed Jane Austen’s Regency romances no longer applies in the Twenty-first century – yes, the Colonel Brandon character is older than the person they’re attracted to, but that doesn’t make them a figure of fun in the love and marriage stakes any more. Indeed, Brandon is a nuanced and sympathetic character, as is everyone here but the rich and snobby side of the Dashwood family, who need to be out-and-out villains for the story to work. But there is still plenty for Lisa Henry to explore in the subject of losing a loved one and readjusting to a new way of life, and Elliot’s vulnerability and grief is very nicely handled. He and Ned have chemistry from their first meeting, and their suitability for each other is emphasised with small moments, such as Ned being the only person to tell Elliott he’s sorry for his loss, rather than with over-the-top romantic gestures.
If you’re looking for erotic content you’ll find the book on the light side (one scene involving paint and a canvas in Henry Dashwood’s old studio aside), but that fits the tone of the story. Overall, The California Dashwoods is a funny and charming read that respects Sense And Sensibility while giving it a thoroughly modern makeover.
I received a copy of The California Dashwoods from Indigo Marketing and Design in return for an honest review.