The story picks up where Margaret’s parents are dead and she has returned to London. Mr. Bell is dying at her brother Frederick’s home in Spain, and has asked to see her one last time. Margaret bucks protocol to travel by ship alone to Spain. John is on that ship. Thornton, resolved to protect Margaret’s honour, claims to be her brother to keep her safe. Unfortunately, pretending to be the brother of the woman you love turns out to be more difficult than he expected!
This is what we call a masaledar story in my country. It means “spicy”. With a voyage, an accident, an exotic location, a villain, a fist-fight, a wedding, a death, a fugitive, the threat of execution, and plenty of steamy make-out sessions, NSTAL makes a fine plot for a blockbuster Bollywood film. (We’d just need to write in, like, 50 song-and-dance routines.) So let’s break it down for you, Bollywood style.
The voyage, the accident, the exotic location.
Suggested Bollywood song title: Nayi Manzil, Purana Pyaar (New Destination, Old Love)
Gaskell herself was said to have been unhappy with her rushed ending for North and South. So reimagining their meeting after months of physical separation is a great place to start a story. I loved that Margaret and John rediscover each other in locations foreign to them – on a ship, and in Spain – a far cry from the John Thornton of smoky Milton, and the mourning Margaret, listless in London. Perhaps why this John is less …grumpy, and this Margaret is a naughty little minx!
A villain, a fist-fight, a wedding, a death.
Suggested Bollywood song title: Nayak aur Khalnayak (The Hero and The Villain)
I loved the flamboyant French villain, Jiro. Jiro’s machinations only prove John to be the the brave and selfless knight in shining armour, we know he is and who doesn’t swoon at that? We’re also introduced to some new characters on the voyage, and we meet Frederick and his family on the Spanish leg of their journey. Which brings us to….
A fugitive; the threat of execution.
Suggested Bollywood song title: Yeh Khatarnak Chal! (This Deadly Trap!)
Remember how Frederick is a wanted man in England because of the mutiny he led? Well, that comes back to haunt our beloved characters just when you think they’ve attained happiness. Cue the drama.
Steamy make-out sessions.
Suggested Bollywood song title: Chumma Chumma De De (Gimme A Kiss Kiss!)
There’s surprisingly quite a bit of making out. For many readers that will come as a pleasant surprise. For those who like their books decidedly “Victorian”, less so. Just to clarify, in no way is it close to erotica, but it’s naughty. I recently learned that the “delicious silence” John and Margaret shared at the end of the book North and South is believed to be a euphemism for kissing. Now compare that to reading about their bedroom sexy talk and tumbles. Yes, it was a departure, but it was fun!
There can be too much of a good thing though. For me there was way too much kissing too early in the story. Part of the fun is the angst, so the voyeuristic joy of looking through the keyhole into their bedroom antics fizzled fast.
There’s also a bit too much plot. Part of the draw of classic books is that there’s a lot of talking and worrying about what the other is thinking – there’s emphasis on thoughts more than action. This plot if very action-oriented. That’s actually great for modern readers, but maybe I’m old-school.
Definitely read if:
(a) You like Dickens (Specifically A Tale of Two Cities. You’ll know what I mean when you read the book.)
(b) You want Margaret & John to get some sexy time.
(c) You wondered about Frederick and his life in Spain.
(d) You want to see Mrs. Thornton redeemed. (Sort of.)
(e) You’ve always wanted Henry Lennox to get his happy ending.
(f) You like Bollywood movies. (Disclaimer: No, there’s no song and dance. Wait, there is a little song and dance. They’re in Spain, remember?)
A note about the audiobook: I listened to the book on Audible. Ana Clements has the kind of voice that grows on you, until you find yourself wishing to hear her soothing voice on every audio book. Plus, she’s a wizard at accents, are there are quite a few different ones in this story!