Author: Shannon Hale
Rating: 4.5 stars
Source: paperback as a gift
Summary: 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?
Sure, this book had a parody-like quality to it. And among my loud and frequent giggling, I can recognize that there's an intense cheesiness to this story. But I mean c'mon, it's Shannon Hale, and it's Jane Austen.
Right from the dedication page (directed at Colin Firth) I knew I wouldn't be able to put down Austenland. Circumstances help, of course. I'd been in a kind of reading-rut, and in that awful mood where just sitting and staring at my to-read bookshelf was enough to make me frustrated. So I had gotten Austenland from my friend for Christmas, and figured I'd now give this short, unimposing paperback some attention before it got lost with all the other "I'll get to them" books.
And here I am, a few hours later, trying not to just Austenfangirl over it. I'm trying.
First off, this is the first non-YA book I've read of Shannon Hale's. I think I've read all her other YA books, which I love. I just don't read too much contemporary adult fiction because there's nothing I can relate to in them, personally. But even though Austenland is technically an adult genre book, I'd recommend it to Austen fans of any age, because there's really nothing inappropriate in it, etc. Remember, this takes place in a time where there wasn't any of that...publicly. ;)
The protagonist, Jane Erstwhile, *snigger* was reallly relatable to me. I have a feeling that's a bad thing in normal life, but hey, that made it easier to read the book! So really, there shouldn't be any complaint. I liked hearing about the past failed relationships that separated each chapter, aka cluster of days. Those snippets of the past really give some good insight as to why this kind of vacation is sorely overdue for her. And also, they're hilarious in a depressing way.
I'm not sure if this is on purpose in tribute to Austen, but there are a lot of characters in this novel. Just enough to have to pay close attention to all of them. And by the end, there's always that, "wait, who were they again? Or they came from...? Remind me who's actor, or player?" This leads to my first slight complaint. I had a terribly hard time figuring out what's real and what's not. I'm also 90% sure it's written to be this way on purpose (like I mentioned before) so I went along with it/Jane, playing along. It didn't bother me as long as I didn't try to hard to differentiate the two. Reality and fantasy. It's not like I do that in my every day life to begin with anyway.
There is one more thing I just have to point out, that annoyed me: Martin, the gardener. *this paragraph can get kinda spoilery* Okay I didn't realize that Jane (the main character, not me) didn't know he was one of the actors...like duh? He was the gardener, but they had gardeners back then, so obviously he's one of them! That seemed kind of stupid. Maybe I was just too perceptive or something, but it's not a huge deal, so I'm just venting a little.
The climax and ending includes so many changes of heart that it became borderline over-the-top (is that even possible in a book like this one?) for me. It was a great and perfect ending, but up till the very very end, I was still discombobulated with what was real and not. But again, I think you're supposed to have that surreal attitude while absorbed in Austenland!
I highly recommend this to any crazy-obsessed Austen fan. Or any person who wishes they lived in Regency-era England. I've even heard the sequel/companion, Midnight in Austenland, is better, so I can't wait to read it!
And I'm so excited about the movie! I really can't wait to see this brought to life via screen.