Austenland by Shannon Hale
Published: 2010, Bloomsbury USA
Series: Austenland, #1
Genre: Adult Romance, Contemporary
Source: PurchasedGoodreads · Amazon · Barnes & Noble
At a very young age, she had learned how to love from Austen. And according to her immature understanding at the time, in Austen’s world there was no such thing as a fling. Every romance was intended to lead to marriage, every flirtation just a means to find that partner to cling to forever.
Jane Hayes has a bit more than a healthy appreciation of Jane Austen’s works. What Jane Hayes has could actually be more easily classified as an obsession. It’s caused her to have unrealistic expectations of today’s men, and she’s not the only one who has come to that realization.
From her great aunt’s will, Jane learns that she has been given an all-inclusive three week vacation to Pembrook Park, a place that reenacts life in Regency England for paying customers. Jane decides to allow herself three weeks of pure wish-fulfillment at Pembrook before ending her Austen (more specifically Mr. Darcy) obsession.
Despite possessing a strong appreciation of Jane Austen, I haven’t read many stories that pay homage to her works. After quite enjoying a few of Hale’s other works, I decided to give this one a try. I can relate to wish-fulfillment and the desire to experience life from a different era. And as Jane herself says best:
“If you were a woman, all I'd have to say is 'Colin Firth in a wet shirt' and you'd say 'Ah.’”
I enjoyed the intermixing of reality and fantasy, true depth and superficiality. As much as Mrs. Wattlesbrook, the proprietress of Pembrook Park, tries to replicate an authentic Regency experience, the experience is only as good as the people participating in it. Newly christened as Jane Erstwhile, it does not take Jane long to realize that, much as she’d like for it to be real, she’s simply interacting with actors and other people who possess sad addictions to the lifestyles found in Jane Austen’s stories, and that she’s one of them.
My main complaint is that Jane simply isn’t very memorable, nor are any of the relationships she’s had. Between each chapter, Hale adds short sections recounting Jane’s history with her thirteen past boyfriends. These sections were surely intended to help readers form a better understanding of what caused the severity of Jane’s Austen-like romantic ideals. And perhaps they do to some degree, but they do not help develop Jane’s character in any substantial way.
Nor is Jane’s transformation as satisfying as it could have been. From Jane’s first misgiving during her three-week stay at Pembrook Park, I had a pretty good guess of where the story was heading and how being there would ultimately affect Jane’s development. Expecting certain events to occur did not necessarily hinder my enjoyment of those events while I was reading. Jane’s lack of solid characterization did, however. Besides her obsession with Jane Austen’s works, I had trouble understanding her character. She finds herself involved in flirtations with two men, and she wants each of them to see her as herself, not as Miss Jane Erstwhile. And yet even I as a reader had trouble determining exactly what makes Jane tick.
This is the first book I’ve read by Shannon Hale that caters to an adult audience. While amusing, this story lacks much of the charm I found in The Goose Girl and Princess Academy. From what I’ve read of Hale so far, I think she’s better at writing for children and young adults. That being said, this will not be my last Hale book; it is likely, however, that this will be the last adult book I read from her.
Despite all my criticism, I did enjoy my time spent reading Austenland. It functions well as a work of fun, light-hearted chick lit, and reading this was a perfect break from a project I had. It’s pure escapism, just as Pembrook Park itself is supposed to be. But any deeper meanings fell flat for me. I suppose this is worth the read, but it’s not really worth spending any more time thinking about it once the last page is closed.
Rating: 2.5 stars