Monday, May 13, 2013

Review: Austenland by Shannon Hale

Austenland--Shannon Hale
May 2007 by Bloomsbury
197 pages--Goodreads

Jane Hayes is a seemingly normal young New Yorker, but she has a secret. Her obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, is ruining her love life: no real man can compare. But when a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women, Jane's fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become realer than she ever could have imagined. 

Decked out in empire-waist gowns, Jane struggles to master Regency etiquette and flirts with gardeners and gentlemen;or maybe even, she suspects, with the actors who are playing them. It's all a game, Jane knows. And yet the longer she stays, the more her insecurities seem to fall away, and the more she wonders: Is she about to kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?

I usually don't care much for adult books.  Maybe I'm still a kid at heart.  Maybe you can just do more interesting things in whimsical middle grade/young adult books than reasonable adult books.  Maybe I just don't care about a mid-thirties woman whose life isn't going anywhere.  For whatever reason, I couldn't lose myself to Austenland.

My biggest hang up with this novel is the premise.  As fun as Austenland is as an idea and as much as I liked exploring the world, immersing yourself in Austen is not the way to get over an Austen fetish.  You wouldn't send an alcoholic on a bunch of winery/brewery tours to kick the habit.  It just won't work.  In the same light, deliberately putting yourself in a position to fall for a Mr. Darcy won't kill your Darcy obsession. I hoped for more from Jane: that she would learn to embrace reality and make it her own. Instead she is rewarded with the idyllic rom-com ending.  I'm not a cynic, but come on.  Darcy is not real, and you will waste your life if you wait for him.  

I love the narrator and her personality.  Hale perfectly captures the gently satirical tone of Austen's narrators and their commentary.  I would have liked to see more of her.  I also like when Hale's plot is reminiscent of Austen's novels.  It is often just close enough to realize "Hey, this is Mansfield Park," but not so similar that Hale's plot loses originality.

Austenland is a light, fluffy book, but that is all it was meant to be.  Austenland is written to fulfill that romantic fantasy in all our Austenite hearts.  The romance just isn't to my taste.  I mean, describing men as "yummy"?  No.  So on the whole, not my favorite Hale novel, but still a fun read.

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