Written by: Shannon Hale
Paperback: 208 pages
May 2008, $12.99
Jane is a young New York woman who never seems to find the right man — perhaps because of her secret obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. When a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-obsessed women, however, Jane's fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become more real than she ever could have imagined. Is this total immersion in a fake Austenland enough to make Jane kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?
I love my friend Finn. Why? Because she knows that even though I don’t read the whole cotton candy chick lit genre, she also is well aware of how much of a Jane Austen whore I am. I will say this now, I have a tendency to fall for fictional characters; Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy being one of them. Who wouldn’t? And yes Colin Firth helped this along quite nicely. So did adaptions of Mansfield Park, Emma, Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion. As much as I love my oh so modern life, I cannot help but sometimes wish I lived in Austenland. Maybe it’s because I live by certain Austen rules such as my fault of treating every dating relationship like I hope it to be my last. I am a die-hard romantic. I want to be wooed. Granted wooing might involve horror films, video games and a long discussion on which Star Trek Captain in the best, but the wooing bit would be nice. There is something undeniably romantic about the heroes of Jane Austen’s novels, of the Regency era with the dresses and…well all of it really. Plus I wouldn’t have to really work. I could read, be all crafty and take long walks all day with balls put here and there since no one in Jane Austen’s world actually seems to have a job and even the poor live in manors. I think I also really enjoy that most of Austen’s heroines are spunky. They are not your damsel in distress. Sure they can be fickle and too head strong some times, but they don’t just wait to be married off as society tells them they should. I dig that. I also understand that most of Austen’s novels were social satires not chick lit romances. And yet, if given the choice, especially as a nice Christmas/Birthday sort of gift I would love to go on an immersion holiday. I am really not picky either: Austenland, Tolkienland, Dresdenland, DoctorWhoverse, Harry Potterland, TruBloodtopia, or Holmesverse, Exit to Eden….you name it. I am okay with that sort of gift. Please. Can I have?
Jane Hayes is a thirty something graphic designer who lives in New York City. She is also in love with Mr. Darcy. In fact she blames her lack of love life on Jane Austen and Colin Firth. How can any man compare or really compete with that? Thankfully her great aunt was thinking of her and provides an escape into the realm of all things Regency with a month long vacation in England. But not just any England. An exclusive resort where she will dress, dine, and interact in her very own little Austenland. Immersive therapy is the only way to go and so Jane decides that Mr. Darcy and Jane Austen in general are about to have one last hurrah before the real world makes her finally stop daydreaming and start living. And maybe, just maybe Jane can stop dreaming about Colin Firth and find her own Mr. Darcy.
Things I loved: The perfect little beach read, where happy endings abound and I find myself sighing and asking the PTB, why not me? Jane is in her early thirties, taking the long way around when it comes to finding Mr. Right, convinced that she is utterly going to end up alone and with millions of cats. I get it. So with you and feeling your pain. Her little fangirly secret…Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth which he hides in a potted plant (okay, so you lost me a bit because I sometimes quite obviously let that fangirly flag fly.) But I understand the crush. I feel the same way about Austen, Shakespeare, David Tennant and a certain Canadian named Ryan Reynolds. Oh and there are more: anything remotely related to Joss Whedon, zombies, chocolate and peanut butter, the French language, books, gaming, etc. I understand the need to reign the fangirl in every now and again, especially around less pop culture savvy mortals. Anyway, Jane gets to live out her fantasy and geekiness for three blessed weeks in what will be Regency England. Sadly I don’t get to participate with her, I just get to read about it and nod my head and hate her in the end. It’s what I do. How I cope. How I seethe with jealousy. To be honest minus those bits I just mentioned, I didn’t really love her. She was bit too air heady and neurotic and I couldn’t relate to her at first. Maybe it was because I had to get to know the girl a bit more. Maybe because there was a part of me asking why I was reading chick lit.
When she gets there, Jane can’t immerse herself in fantasyland. Not supposed to have a cell phone, well she cannot imagine living without it for three weeks so she hides her smart phone in her bra. I also understand that. As much as I may want to and love to play pretend for a month, I would be lost without at least a bit of technology. I kind of live and breathe it sometimes. Even after she gets into the empire waist and the bonnets and such, she still isn’t quite there in fantasy land. I get you sweetheart. I would try to affect and English accent but sadly probably sound like the other American woman there (what what, bloke, etc) which is why I would do a crash course with my good friend Merry so I sounded sort of authentic. Even though it was probably with a bunch of people I would never see again I would be self-conscious. So, yes, immediately related to Jane once again. But I loved that the other women in the story had varying degrees of comfort at Pembroke. And that you were not quite sure who was an actor and who wasn’t. Which is why I understood her getting with the ‘gardener for a bit’. If you dig someone and then you keep suspecting that it is all an act because he is paid to live out your fantasy as opposed to the cute actor who is willing to watch the game with you. The resort even understands this. Not everybody is so awesome at the hard core LARPing.
Jane is nervous and scared and funny without really meaning to. She wants a happily ever after, still hopes for it even when she is being far too cynical about herself. Now some people said that they hated that here we have a nice, successful woman. Does this mean she cannot have her happy ending without a man. No, what it means it that sometimes you just want to share your life with someone. If I had wanted the husband and 2.5 children thing, I could have. Instead I chose to discover who I was. I know now. And now it would be stellar to find my Mr. Darcy or My Time Lord or my Malcolm Reynolds. Or to be honest that fellow geek who will go folfing with me, not get mad when I find myself reading a book or playing a videogame for more than an hour, and who likes sushi. I understand that dream of wanting someone to sweep you off your feet, though if I found my knight in tarnished armor I would be more than happy to sweep him off of his feet. I don’t think it is wrong to be a hopeless romantic. I don’t think it is wrong to want to find that happily ever after or hope for that bubbly warm fuzzy feeling when you find that special someone. It is wrong to stop living your life and trying to find that special someone just because you need to have Mr. Darcy and only Mr. Darcy. I don’t think Jane was doing that. I think Jane was like me. Frustrated because she wants the romance which is hard to come by when you are a modern woman. But she never stopped trying even when she told herself, this is it. No more.
And oh how I loved the past relationships breakdown that are spaced throughout the narrative. Yes I could definitely relate. Like the been on three dates and now it has to be a relationship faux pas committed in my youth. Though I will spare you the sordid and not so sordid details of some of my finer and not so finer relationships.
Things I didn't love so much: Admittedly some of it did come off a bit cheesy. And yet I am not expecting Tolstoy here. I am not expecting huge dramatic plot or character depth. It’s like reading one of those chick flicks Finn watches too many of. You know how it is going to end. And you don’t care because it is fun and you smile a lot. But yes the prose isn’t amazing, the dialogue a bit cheesy and forced, certain plot elements contrived, etc. So yes, if I were really a nitpicker I could go on and on about those. But as I said I kind of knew what I was getting into.
Buy or Borrow: Borrow. And yes even though in the end it is a light fluffy almost saccharine story, I cannot help but like it. And figure if there is a happily ever after for Jane. My happily ever after is out there somewhere.
Part of: A series. Midnight in Austenland comes out in January of 2012
Also Recommended: Of course anyone who loved this and hasn't read any of Jane Austen's work, shame on you. Please go read my favorites are Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma with Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion close seconds. Shannon Hale has also done The Princess Academy, The Books of Bayern and The Actor and the Housewife all of which I haven't read yet but would like to since I loved this so much. Also, this will be a movie in 2012 starring Keri Russell as Jane.
4 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks