Monday, July 22, 2013

Book Review: Austenland

Austenland (Austenland #1)
Shannon Hale

Release Date: May 29, 2007

Book Description:
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?

Amazon US | Goodreads

Where is one to start with this? It took me all but 3 nights to finish it – it was certainly a quick read and funny at times, but Bridget Jones’s Diary it was not sadly, although some remnants were certainly there. I found it fun and entertaining at times, and rolled my eyes at our heroine at others, but other than that it was a typical romance novel.

Shannon Hale makes an interesting translation of the beloved Pride & Prejudice, taking our characters in a pretend time-travel setting, where one is left wondering as to reality of it all. Spoiler { Jane Hayes, our heroine, a Mr. Darcy fanatic, lives her love life in the comparison to Jane Austen’s novels, and consequently miserably failing at it. Luckily, as Jane comes to realization that, perhaps spinsterhood would be a more suitable lifestyle choice, her wealthy great-aunt Carolyn bequests her with a 3-week long vacation to Pembrook Park, where guests are immersed into a Regency lifestyle, worthy of Austen’s novels. Jane, of course, takes the plunge vowing to rid herself of her Mr. Darcy infatuation and start anew thereafter, forgoing any romance in the future. As one might easily guess, Jane discovers that she is not ready to give her love life up completely, but rather begins to look at things with a new perspective.

Through numerous walks in the park, formal dinners, and card playing in the drawing rooms of the grand Pembrook, Jane finds herself attracted to the estate’s gardener – Martin, who unlike others at Austenland, acts “21st century” with her, which surprisingly Jane finds alluring, as she believes everyone else’s motivations to be not true. The actor, Mr. Nobley (aka Mr. Darcy), whom she initially finds quite annoying and unpleasant, soon becomes enamored with Jane which culminates in his appropriately “staged” proposal to her. Jane, believing that Mr. Nobley’s play is only that – a play, turns him down, and plans to continue her fling with Martin, once on the other side of Austenland, only to discover him to be an actor as well. Hurt and disappointed, but managing to scare the proprietress of the estate in her final farewell she leaves alone for her flight back to America, where she finds herself suddenly followed by both her suitors, but only one can truly become Jane’s Mr. Darcy. } End Spoiler

It is a fun, entertaining ride in an Austen-like theme park, but once you step behind the gates you are hit with reality where one cannot pretend to be living in an imagined world. I believe that Jane does learn her lesson; although it is forgone in favor of the happy ending, where she still ends up with her Mr. Darcy and is let to live her fantasy, rather than reality.

Favorite Quotes:

"As a general rule, conversation is more intimate in a crowd, but among only six people, every word, and silence, became public.” Astenland: A Novel (p. 102).

“I picked Pride and Prejudice out of my (miraculously) still-living houseplant and tucked it into a harmless spot beside all the other DVDs, spine out and proud.” Austenland: A Novel.

Other books in the series:

Midnight in Austenland (Austenland #2)
Shannon Hale

Release Date: January 31, 2012

Book Description:
When Charlotte Kinder treats herself to a two-week vacation at Austenland, she happily leaves behind her ex-husband and his delightful new wife, her ever-grateful children, and all the rest of her real life in America. She dons a bonnet and stays at a country manor house that provides an immersive Austen experience, complete with gentleman actors who cater to the guests' Austen fantasies.

Everyone at Pembrook Park is playing a role, but increasingly, Charlotte isn't sure where roles end and reality begins. And as the parlor games turn a little bit menacing, she finds she needs more than a good corset to keep herself safe. Is the brooding Mr. Mallery as sinister as he seems? What is Miss Gardenside's mysterious ailment? Was that an actual dead body in the secret attic room? And-perhaps of the most lasting importance-could the stirrings in Charlotte's heart be a sign of real-life love?

The follow-up to reader favorite Austenland provides the same perfectly plotted pleasures, with a feisty new heroine, plenty of fresh and frightening twists, and the possibility of a romance that might just go beyond the proper bounds of Austen's world. How could it not turn out right in the end?

Amazon US | Goodreads 

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