by Mallory Ortberg
(Henry Holt and Co., $23)
Reviewed by Ealish Waddell
Updated versions of classic stories are nothing new, but the recently released “Texts From Jane Eyre” offers a pretty innovative take on the genre: If characters from classic books were real, and they had access to data plans, what would they text?
From ancient myths to Harry Potter, and Jane Austen to “The Hunger Games,” famous fictional figures have been retrofitted with smartphones and the worldview of a particularly cynical 21st-century twentysomething. The resulting epistles make for hilarious glimpses into their not-so-everyday lives through a lens that is extremely warped but still crystal-clear.
Text messages have a shorthand language all their own, and Ortberg employs it deftly to subtly indicate personality traits and narrative nuances. Of course, the dramatic Edward Rochester types in ALL CAPS. Of course, flirty Scarlett O’Hara is into sexting. Of course, the Lorax won’t shut up about composting. Typos and bad grammar abound (you try to type neatly when a raven won’t stop staring at you). It might sound ridiculous, and it often is, but it’s also really funny.
Given the concentrated nature of the vignettes, the effect is strongest when the reader actually knows the story being skewered — the spotlight here is mostly pointed at characters, not plots. But even unfamiliar tales can benefit from a good goosing, highlighting common themes that run again and again through literature from ancient times to the most modern works.
The high-school English class staples are here, like “Wuthering Heights” and “Great Expectations,” but so are “Sweet Valley High” and “The Babysitters Club.” And you might be surprised at how much they have in common.