Review: Austenland by Shannon Hale

October 29, 2012

by Shannon Hale
Hardcover, 197 pages
Published May 29th 2007 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

Glasses: A Solid 4.0

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?

My Thoughts
I heard about this book initially on a period blog that I follow. I've been going through a Jane Austen phase again recently, and after rereading Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Northanger Abbey, and watching some BBC dramas, I had resorted to fervently following blogs about all period things.

(This is my favorite: Ask Mr. Darcy )

And so, when I found out about a book for people who love Austen's world as much as I do, and they were making a movie based on it, what else could I do? The next day I went to the library, borrowed it, and started reading immediately.

It started off pretty well. Jane's just a normal woman stuck in a rut, going from one relationship to the next, hoping to find her own Mr. Darcy - but to no avail. But wait! When her great aunt dies (one she barely knows) she leaves her great niece as vacation to  Pembrook Park, Kent, England (a.k.a. Austenland) in her will - a place where people pretend to live in regency era England. Filled with British actors, balls, and everything an Austen fan could ever dream of, Jane takes advantage of this vacation in the hopes that this will be her last hurrah in her day dreams before she has to move on into the real world. But, little does she know, a romance is brewing in Pembrook Park, and it involves a gardener and a man who's almost a little bit too similar to Darcy.

I loved almost everything about this book. Jane was funny, the insights on her past boyfriends at the beginning of each chapter were a hoot, the guys were so awesome, and the fact that it was all supposed to be in "Austenland" made it a gazillion times better. But, I suppose, that's also what I didn't like about it. When she's living in the fantasy land with these actors, a little blinking light kept going off in my head. She was living this one huge fat lie. There is no Mr. Nobley. There is no actual Ball. It's all a show that put on for people like her. And it's these times that I had trouble with - but luckly, they were few and far between.

Hale does a good job of keeping Jane set firmly in reality. Jane is self aware, assured, and doubts herself just enough to know she's not fully accepting this crazy illusion either. Mr. Nobley, however, I wasn't a huge fan of (and neither did I like Martin either). As adorable as the book was, the moments  where it turned into an "mock Austen" book, or where the guys had to do something that would have been really awkward to see an actor do in real life - even if it was for money - had me feeling a little awkward.

But, in the end, I loved Austenland, lies and all. And if J.J. Fields is going to play Mr. Nobley, then how could I resist!


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