Saturday, August 25, 2012


In Austenland, by Shannon Hale, we meet Jane Hayes:  30-something graphic designer living in New York.  Jane's had thirteen boyfriends in her life, and none of them ever quite match up to her idea of what a man should be.  And what's her ideal man like?  Mr. Darcy.  Yes, Jane has more than just a slight Austen obsession.  She's so obsessed with Jane Austen's novels and with Mr. Darcy in particular, that she goes so far as to hide her copy of the BBC Pride & Prejudice mini-series (ladies, you know the one...Colin Firth).  

During a visit from her mother and wealthy great-aunt Carolyn, the old woman notices the DVDs and knows immediately what is going through Jane's head.  Great-aunt Carolyn surprises Jane by booking a vacation for her at Pembrook Park, a sort of Regency reenactment resort in the English countryside, where guests and a staff of actors remain in period dress and manner for three weeks.  The clientele consists of Austen-obsessed women, who pay the exorbitant fee to be fake-courted by gentlemen like Austen's male characters.  

Jane isn't sure what to make of her great-aunt's strange gift, but the tickets and reservation are nonrefundable, and the prospect of being in the company of handsome men in breeches has piqued her interest.  Once she checks in, however, and the fantasy begins, the total immersion is a little more than she thinks she can really handle.  Will it help her kick her Darcy fixation, or will she just get even more sucked in than before?  

I don't usually read much contemporary romance, but I can't resist one that's centrally themed around Austen's novels and characters, especially when basically it's a book about people LARPing (and paying out the ass to do it).  It's fairly short (I intended only to begin reading it last night, but ended up staying awake and reading it straight through), and about as fluffy as I expected, but I enjoyed it.  Once Jane gets to Pembrook Park, it was a lot of fun guessing which characters from Austen's novels were being represented, and at one point, they stage a theatrical similar to the one put on by the young people at Mansfield Park.  There were a lot of moments where I laughed out loud, like when a new guest shows up, making the gentleman-to-lady ratio a little uneven, and Jane declares emphatically that she refuses to be the Fanny Price.  If you've read Austen (or at least seen the film adaptations, I guess), then you'll probably guess a lot of what is going to happen long before it takes place, but that didn't really ruin the story for me.  

At first I wasn't sure I would really like any of the characters all that much, because I thought they might end up being modern caricatures of Austen's characters.  And while, yes, it's obvious that the men are meant to be tailored to the guests' ideal Austen men, the place is unscripted, so things didn't necessarily have to go the way I expected they would.  Jane I actually thought I wouldn't much care for, but the more I read, the more I found that I relate to her on a level that is actually pretty embarrassing to admit.  I don't go around comparing every man I meet to men from Austen's novels, but the string of pseudo-relationships and brief involvements, among other things...personality-wise, she could be my literary doppelgänger.  Except for the part where I'm bitter and cynical. 

I definitely recommend this if you're looking for something light, fun, and fluffy to kill a few hours or so.  It's absolutely a feel-good kind of book.



Bloomsbury Publishing

Film Adaptations:

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