Austenland by Shannon Hale

I admit it, I’ve become something of a Jane Austen fan in the last year. Along with half the reading world it seems. Books about Austen abound. There are books about her books, books about her, books that retell her books from the standpoint of another character. It started when I signed up for DailyLit and choose Pride and Prejudice (my review here) as my first choice. I’d read P&P before but it was in high school and I didn’t remember it so well. This time around I discovered just how witty and sharp Austen is and immediately requested Sense and Sensibility (my review here). I read that one last fall and made the decision to try and read the remaining novels in 2008.

One of the many books that play off Austen is Austenland by Shannon Hale. Jane Hayes is 32 and single. She’s obsessed with finding her own Darcy and is unable to find the perfect man because of this. Her great aunt dies and leaves her a non-refundable trip to Pembrook Place. Pembrook Place is a resort where guests give up all trappings of modern life and live by the Rules of Austen’s time. It comes complete with costumed actors, clothing, dance lessons, and fake eligible bachelors. Jane (who becomes Miss Erstwhile at Pembrook Place) is to stay for 3 weeks and is determined to get over her Darcy fixation for good.

It was very hard for me to buy into the whole concept of living in that time and pretending to fall in love with the actors. I don’t have a problem with living history (I worked at a museum with costumed actors for years) but the idea that at the end of the 3 weeks she should fall in love with one of the actors was hard for me. Fortunately for me, the idea was often hard for her to fall for as well. Jane alternates between having a blast pretending to live in that time and feeling like a fool for pretending. If it hadn’t been for this awareness on her part, if she’d gone for it full speed, I would not have enjoyed it nearly as much. The actors are well done, rarely breaking character and when they did it was subtle. There was one who surprised me at the end- I really truly didn’t see it coming. I felt a bit of the P&P references were a bit heavy handed. Mr. Nobley was clearly Darcy, it couldn’t be more obviously done. Overall it was a good read and I’m a bit tempted to keep it until after I’ve finished up the rest of Austen’s novels but I think I’ll pass it on for now.

There are tons of references to Austen’s books, of course, and it just inspired me to read them even more. I have Emma and Northanger Abbey on my shelves and Persuasion waiting in email. I’m not sure which I’ll tackle next. PBS is showing the movies this winter and while I’d like to see them, I think I’ll wait and only watch the ones I’ve already read.

Review cross posted at Books. Lists. Life.

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