Meg and Jo by Virginia Kantra

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  This is a “modern day retelling” of Good Wives, as the title suggests.  I’m not a great fan of this genre, because it feels as if someone’s just exploiting someone else’s clever ideas, and only read this as part of a Facebook group reading challenge, but I have to say that it was rather cleverly done.  Meg and Jo’s stories probably translate better to the present day than those of many “Girls’ Own” heroines would, because Louisa M Alcott told them so realistically.  In a lot of books, growing up is the difficult part, and setting up home, managing a budget, adapting to living with a partner, looking after young children and or establishing a career just come naturally and easily.  Not so for Meg and Jo, and that’s why they work well in the 21st century, having the same struggles as many other women in their 20s and 30s.

The action has been moved not only from the 1860s to the 2010s but from Massachusetts to North Carolina.  I’m not sure whether that’s because the author lives in North Carolina and preferred a Southern setting or because Massachusetts tends to be at the forefront of culture wars and therefore might not have fitted in with the story, but I thought it was a bit of a shame.  The Marches belong to New England.

Beth and Amy have got their own book, and only appear briefly in this – Amy as an intern with Louis Vuitton, later becoming a handbag designer, and Beth as a country and western singer who becomes a YouTube sensation (seriously?!).  I’m not sure that I fancy that book: it sounds a bit OTT.

This one works OK, though.  Meg has worked in a bank but is now a housewife, with young twins Daisy and DJ, and Jo is living in New York, writing a food blog and working in a restaurant whilst trying to get her books published.   Laurie, rechristened Trey (again, seriously?!), works at a car dealership owned by Mr Laurence, along with John Brooke, still hopes to get back with his high school sweetheart Jo, who only wants him as a friend.  He’s not really involved, though.  Presumably he features more in the Beth and Amy book.

Mr March is an army chaplain, and Mrs March runs her late parents’ farm and does everything for everyone else … rather less sanctimoniously than Marmee ever did.  There are no dead canaries, and no-one guilt trips Meg for wearing a fancy frock.  In fact, Mrs March helps with the dresses for the ball … which has become a school prom on which Meg looks back.   And she’s very much presented as the person who holds it all together, and Mr March as being selfish and only considering what works for him.

That’s an interesting interpretation.  I often think like that about Pa Ingalls, but I’ve never really thought of Mr March as always putting himself first.  Maybe that’s because a) Little Women’s set in wartime, so volunteering as an army chaplain seemed selfless and b) we don’t know how he lost his money.   But this book doesn’t offer an explanation for the loss of the money either.  It just casts Mr March as someone who’s far more concerned about his work than about his family.  Maybe he’s based more on the real life Mr Alcott than on Mr March?  That would makes sense, but it wasn’t what I was expecting.  Mr March in the Little Women books is a Good Egg, if rather patronising towards his daughters.

Professor Bhaer is now plain Eric Bhaer, the head chef at Jo’s workplace, and they get together after various misunderstandings.   That all translates to the present day quite well.  Various other characters, notably Aunt March and Sallie Gardiner, also appear.  Hannah is recast as a kindly neighbour.   And Fred Vaughn as a singer in a British boy band whom Amy followed on You Tube.  That really was a bit silly.  No Hummels.

BTW, is the term “family meal” a thing in the US now?  We have endless arguments in England over whether your evening meal is tea (we Northerners), dinner (ordinary Southerners) or supper (posh Southerners), but “family meal” is a new one on me!

To get back to the point, a lot of the story revolves around Mrs March being ill and Meg being the one to look after her, so that’s *not* from Good Wives, but the characters of Meg and Jo and how their lives are going very much are.   And it says a lot about the timelessness of the original story that that comes across so well in a book set nearly 150 years after it.

It’s well-written, but doesn’t quite have Louisa M Alcott’s charm.   Without the Good Wives connection, it’d just be basic chicklit – which isn’t a bad thing, just not something I’d usually read.  But, *with* the connection, it was far better than I was anticipating.  I suppose it doesn’t hurt to try something different sometimes!

4 thoughts on “Meg and Jo by Virginia Kantra

  1. This probably isn’t something I would choose to read, but I enjoyed reading your thoughts on it and I’m glad it worked better than expected. I’m not sure about the other book – I think Beth would be too shy to be on Youtube!

    Liked by 2 people

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