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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Darcy’s Story by Janet Aylmer

Darcy's Story
Janet Aylmer

This is probably going to be a Jane Austen week over here because I got into a strange kick that started with picking up Darcy's Story and Pride, Prejudice and Jasmine Field for a dollar at the library store.

"When Elizabeth Bennet first met Mr. Darcy she found him proud, distant, and rude – despite the other ladies' admiration of his estate in Derbyshire and ten thousand pounds a year. But what is Mr. Darcy thinking?"

Unlike the previous book I read, this isn't a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, but rather a retelling of the same story from the point of view of Darcy.

My thoughts: Well, it keeps consistent with the plot of Pride and Prejudice, but it lacks something. Almost every scene is exactly the same as Pride and Prejudice, at least the ones with Darcy in them, so I got the feeling that I was just rereading the original story and not seeing anything new – if you just finished the original Jane Austen work, I would not recommend picking this book up right away, it will feel like deja vu. The dialogue is pretty much cut and pasted from Jane Austen's work, and when it isn't it is summarized in detail. I understand that this author wanted to keep as close to the original as possible, but she made the book so safe it was boring. She filled all the "spaces" where Austen's dialogue didn't exist with mundane details of day to day life like how they travelled from London and what stops were made. Otherwise she described emotions with telling not showing. Things did not have the same feel as Austen's writing, which was really underlined when you saw her dialogue in this setting. Aylmer also repeated the same dialogue over and over as Darcy remembered conversations. Even his conversation with his aunt when she confronts him about an engagement to Elizabeth just has her repeating the conversation she has with Elizabeth line for line! In italics too!

 I really wish this author tried to bring in more of her own imagination into the story instead of relying so much on the original. The only things new here were a couple of scenes where Darcy talks to Georgiana or his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam. There is also a brief description of him discovering that Mr Wickham was secretly trying to get his sister's inheritance and quickly stopping it. Otherwise, the book is a quick OK read, but not memorable. I also felt that Darcy was not as strong as he could have been – in this version we see a sympathetic character with faults, trying to do the right thing, but Aylmer really repeats over and over his problems with conversing with people he just met and his jealousy of Wickham, Charles Bingley and his cousin for their comparable ease at this skill. Once was ok, but several times made him sound very insecure and lacked subtlety.

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Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field

This book is one of those modern day retellings of Pride and Prejudice. Jasmin Field (Jazz) is a reporter at a woman’s magazine who signed up for an audition for a one day “Pride and Prejudice” play, with director Harry Nobel. She finds Harry really arrogant and her contempt is cemented when she overhears him calling her “the Ugly Sister” compared to her actress sister George. What follows is a parallel of the Pride and Prejudice, which is very obvious considering the play and the title of the book, but there are several things I thought made things more interesting – the author focusses on the characters of Elizabeth and Jane Bennet, Mr. Bingley and Darcy more than others in the Jane Austen Novel and there are some twists to the Wickham scandal, the Bennet family and Mr. Collins.

Nits:

  • Well I saw reviews complaining about the main character being called “Jazz” and her best friend and sister were “Mo” and “George” – like there are too many cool names here. This didn’t bother me, but maybe avoid it if it’s a peeve.
  • There’s apparently a lot of swearing. I barely noticed though, I thought this was all part of Jazz’s lifestyle as a young woman with snarky female friends. They are all very blunt with each other.
  • This was my only really complaint: it was so obvious that the story paralleled the Jane Austen book, but the characters who were doing a play were rather oblivious except to kind of laugh when their words paralleled lines in the play maybe a couple of times. You have to suspend some disbelief here.

 

Good things:
OK, the rest of the book – I really liked it and enjoyed myself. I found it hard to put down. Even though I knew what was likely going to happen because I know the Pride and Prejudice story, I thought that Pride, Prejudice, and Jasmin Field was originally done and was humorous. It was very different from the original because of the modern setting, with Jazz/Lizzy having a job as a reporter and her work issues, while Harry’s actor background is very different from the Darcy in Jane Austen’s book. It was fun to see Nathan’s creativity in translating the Austen book to this setting. I thought the romance was very sweet too. Jazz is often really angry at Harry and he’s a bit intimidated, but she doesn’t realize this, so when they get together at the end, it was nicely done, and showed his insecurity. I also thought Nathan’s version of the scene where Lizzy first sees Darcy’s house was very different – you wouldn’t easily guess it until you see it. So discovering what scenes translated to what was fun. I read this book in just a few hours and quickly googled the author as soon as I was done. I was really sad to find that Nathan died of cancer only a couple of years ago, but she has another Jane Austen based novel which I plan to read (Persuading Annie), as well as other books. I think I’m likely to go and devour her backlist, I think I found a new author I love. Judging from amazon though, it was definitely either loved it or hated it regarding this book. Don’t read it if you want something serious and similar to Austen, it’s more like irreverant, chick-lit Austen.

 

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