Austenland by Shannon Hale

Austenland: A Novel
Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale is another one of those authors whose back-list I want to read, just haven't gotten around to it. Before Austenland I've only read young adult books by her. Just looked it up, yes she as mostly written young adult books. I have only read The Goose Girl, but mean to pick up Enna Burning and The Princess Academy one day. Anyway, when I saw Austenland on display in Barnes and Noble, my gasp was rather audible. An adult book, Austen AND Shannon Hale?

So I kept going to the bookstore and visiting this book, but thinking about my TBR and putting it back down. Yeah, I do that with a lot of books. I visit them at the bookstore and think of how I have to finish what I have…

 After getting into an Austen remake kick with the Melissa Nathan book I read, I went to the library and picked this up (but I have also ordered it online).

This is a bit different from the previous chick-lit + Austen related books I've read as in it doesn't really retell Pride and Prejudice, and it doesn't have any time travel to see Mr. Darcy, but we do have a Jane Austen obsessed heroine, single, who decides to go on an Austen themed holiday. This reminded me a bit of Me and Mr. Darcy, except instead of going on a tour, Jane Hayes goes and lives at Pembrook Park, where actors play the roles of Austen era gentility, and guests' dreams of a pretend romance while wearing Regency clothes come true. This expensive vacation was willed to Jane by her great-aunt so she can get over her very serious view of relationships (she starts off by hoping for forever, and after disappointments mount, starts to rely more and more on the fantasy of Mr. Darcy). Jane Hayes becomes Jane Erstwhile, back from the New World and visiting her aunt Saffonia and her husband Sir Templeton, and meets other guests staying with her "aunt".

Overall: This was a fun read. I found it a bit short though, only 194 pages in my copy, which is more of a young adult length, but it was still a good read. Jane is an amusing character – very forthright with her feelings and quite quick on her feet. Some of her dialogue made me laugh. The book was segmented by short paragraphs about boyfriends Jane has had in her life (13 so far), which added to the amusement and explained some of Jane's character. Because her love interests in this book were both actors (a Mr. Nobley who finds her "impertinant" and Martin Jasper, who breaks role and secretly watches basketball with her in his room), we don't see very much about their backstory, except for a bit when Jane uses her journalist friend's connections. I think that adds to the surreal feeling of – is she really doing this? Pretending? And the oddity of a whole household of people pretending to be in the Regency era for a few rich people's amusement. Jane struggles with this throughout the book, but manages to still be herself while in the ridiculous surroundings.

A complaint I see a lot from people when reading this type of book is how cliched it is – repetition of the same stories created by Austen in the modern world, or trying to continue her books in a bad fan-fiction way. I admit, if that's not your thing, you may not like this book, because this had a lot more references to the BBC adaptations than to the actual books. I'm not sure that accuracy is the point though. This is just a fun story, and I think it does point out the value or real life over fantasy. And while Jane she does meet someone who she at first considers rather Darcy-esque, we don't have an as obvious Lizzy/Darcy parallel as in other books. OK there is one, but it's not bad. It was a fresh spin and I enjoyed it.

Hale's Austenland webpage

An Excerpt

Alternate endings!! <— spoilers therein


Also reviewed:

@ The Written Word (she liked it)

@ Em's Bookshelf (also liked it)

@ AustenBlog (hated it!! Well, I'm giving you a second opinion here).

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