Monday, June 15, 2009

Austenland - If Only Such a Place Truly Existed

A Review of Austenland by Shannon Hale.

Jane Hayes, like many well-read modern women, suffers from disappointment in the arena of love, which stems mostly from the modern man's inability to live up to the romantic image of Colin Firth as Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. When her wealthy Aunt Carolyn passes away, to her mother's dismay, she bequeaths Jane a three-week paid vacation to Pembrook Park, a well kept secret Austenland, where women can transport themselves back into Regency era and find themselves wooed by actors cast to embody the characteristics of the best and worst of Austen's leading men. And there are two such men who catch Jane's fancy, but she finds herself torn between feeling giddy at the shameless flirting and depressed by the unmistaken lack of reality underneath it all. After all, the players are acting, or are they?

Any Austen fan will enjoy this story. Unlike the common Austen fan fic and stories set in an alternate Austen universe, Hale is able to replicate Austen's witty sarcastic banter between characters, while still creating unique characters, rather than cheap caricature's of the originals. Jane Hayes, at thirty-four, channels her inner Elizabeth Bennet when immersed in the fake Austenland, but constantly second guesses herself and truly lacks her spirited backbone and confidence (which makes her all the more identifiable to those of us who also only wish we could aspire to be as confident and unwilling to settle as a twenty year old woman with no fortune in Regency England).

The story is cute, a little too cute at times. But it's easy to chuckle at Jane's clumsied attempts to be as polished as a lady of the 18th century and her realizations that life as an Austen heroine is not it all that it's cracked up to be. In fact, it can be dreadfully boring at times, and it's no wonder Austen skimmed over a lot of the paltry dialog women would have been forced to have on an everyday basis. There are several inside jokes and references Austen fans (or more appropriately addicts) will appreciate, but at the same time, this novel could be read and enjoyed by someone who had not yet enjoyed Austen's novels.

Without giving away the ending, I found myself slightly dissatisfied with the rash change in Mr. Nobley's character. It is too brazen to be Austen-esqe and too unrealistic given Nobley's real history (which Jane finds out through her illegal use of modern technology while in Austenland) and the modern day realities of the relationships between men and women. My biggest complaint, however, is that the novel could easily have been longer and in fact ends at precisely the scene I would have liked to see drawn out and more fully explained as to prove the setting is realistic rather than a fantasyland.

All in all, it's a thoroughly enjoyable read and left me feeling wistful, wishing such a place as the resort at Pembrook Park truly existed and I might endeavor to afford a trip there some time soon.

Visit Shannon Hale's site.


beth said...

I JUST finished this book last week and found myself surprisingly engaged in the story. I found Jane very realistic, but you're right--I was a bit thrown by Mr. Nobley at the end. I sort of wish Martin hadn't been there, and it could have been a more personal meeting between just Jane and Nobley.

suzie said...

Yeah. At first I thought it would be Nobley at the airport, so I was intrigued when it was Martin who called her name, but I just felt the ending was so rushed. And the book is short. She could have easily included something that would have rung more "true" or "real" between Jane and Nobley either in the airport or on the plane to show this relationship might actually work and isn't built on fantasy like all of her other relationships. As it stands it feels like she might be repeating past mistakes.

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Five Random Things About Suzie

1. I drink so much orange soda, it's probably running through my veins. I've been known to go through a twelve pack of diet sunkist in a day.

2. I'm legitimately nocturnal (or a vampire). I will be so exhausted at two pm that I'm falling asleep standing up - it has happened before, at Six Flags no less - but as soon as the sun goes down I'm wide awake.

3. I have a gorgeous unused $6000 Reem Acra wedding dress hanging in my closet, and it showed up on my doorstep the same day my (now ex) fiance broke up with me. And thank God for that. I wouldn't have wanted to waste that dress on him.

4. Social anxiety plagues me daily. I write a script and practice in front of the mirror when I have to make a phone call, but most people who interact with me have no idea how nervous I am (or perhaps they lie) because I've worked so hard to try to overcome it.

5. I'm actually worried that I will never love my children (when I do have them in the far off future) as much as I love my dogs. I just like animals better than people - they're sweet and innocent and soft and furry - is that so wrong?