Feb 23, 2012

Review: Austenland by Shannon Hale

Book review of Austenland by Shannon Hale
Title: Austenland [Amazon|GoodReads]
Author: Shannon Hale [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing: Stand alone, though a new companion novel, Midnight in Austenland is now on the shelves!
Genre: Romance, Contemporary
Published: January 1st, 2007 by Bloomsbury USA
Format: Hardcover; 208 pages.  
Source: Borrowed from my local library.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a thirty-something woman in possession of a satisfying career and fabulous hairdo must be in want of very little, and Jane Hayes, pretty enough and clever enough, was certainly thought to have little to distress her. There was no husband, but those weren’t necessary anymore. There were boyfriends, and if they came and went in a regular stream of mutual dissatisfaction—well, that was the way of things, wasn’t it?

But Jane had a secret. By day, she bustled and luncheoned and emailed and over timed and just-in-timed, but sometimes, when she had the time to slip off her consignment store pumps and lounge on her hand-me-down sofa, she dimmed the lights, turned on her nine inch television, and acknowledged what was missing.

Sometimes, she watched Pride and Prejudice.

You know, the BBC double DVD version, starring Colin Firth as the delicious Mr. Darcy and that comely, busty English actress as the Elizabeth Bennet we had imagined all along. Jane watched and re-watched the part where Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy look at each other over the piano, and there’s that zing, and her face softens, and he smiles, his chest heaving as though he’d breathe in the sight of her, and his eyes are glistening so that you’d almost think he’d cry...Ah!

Each time, Jane’s heart banged, her skin chilled, and she clamped down on the distracting ache in her gut with a bowl of something naughty, like Cocoa Pebbles. That night she would dream of gentlemen in Abraham Lincoln hats, and then in the morning laugh at herself and toy with the idea of hauling those DVDs and all her Austen books to the second hand store.

Of course, she never did.

That pesky movie version was the culprit. Sure, Jane had first read Pride and Prejudice when she was sixteen, read it a dozen times since, and read the other Austen novels at least twice, except Northanger Abbey (of course). But it wasn’t until the BBC put a face on the story that those gentlemen in tight breeches had stepped out of her reader’s imagination and into her non-fiction hopes. Stripped of Austen’s funny, insightful, biting narrator, the movie became a pure romance. And Pride and Prejudice was the most stunning, bite-your-hand romance ever, the kind that stared straight into Jane’s soul and made her shudder.

It was embarrassing. She didn’t really want to talk about it. So let’s move on.
I don’t often read anything that could strait up be called “romance” because I do find it embarrassing.  I’m not sure why.  I mean, a lot of what I read is so focused on romantic plotlines that throwing in fantasy elements or calling it YA doesn’t really change things.  But Austenland was a real adult romance, and I loved it.  It had the Colin-Firth-loving, BBC-watching, Jane-Austen-admiring girl in me squeeing and fist pumping at all the right moments.

Jane Hayes has an unhealthy Mr. Darcy obsession.  She knows it, her friends know it, heck, her great aunt knows it.  She can’t seem to have a happy and successful relationship when no real life man can possibly measure up to her fictional crush, Mr. Darcy.  Now, who among us women can say we don’t have a total crush on Mr. Darcy?!  I certainly do.  However, unlike Jane, my fictional crushes have not seeped into my real life...for the most part...  

When Jane’s great aunt passes away, she is surprised to find her name in the will as the recipient of an all-expenses-paid, non-refundable trip to Pembrook Park in Britain.  Jane determines to go, to face Mr. Darcy and say goodbye once and for all so that she can get over him and on with her life.  Of course, Pembrook Park proves that immersion therapy is easier said than done.  Jane finds herself trussed up in corset and empire waist dresses, feeling awkward and silly, and challenged to take seriously the other women who share her experience, and the men cast to woo them in Austenesque fashion.

The existence of Pembrook Park was, sadly, completely believable to me.  I can imagine wealthy women paying exorbitant amounts to be woven into the world of Jane Austen and courted by charming young men therein.  But isn’t this a wee bit like hiring prostitutes?  Emotional prostitutes maybe, but prostitutes nonetheless.  Ah well, to each their own.  It’s easy to root for Jane, because unlike other guests, she is in no financial situation to live out her fantasies repeatedly, and is looking for a bit of therapeutic resolve.  I love love loved Mr. Nobley, and found his character more-or-less the perfect Mr. Darcy (was he the spitting image of Colin Firth in my head?  You know it.).  It’s so charming to me how Jane despises him for his irritability thinking him nothing like Darcy, failing to acknowledge that Elizabeth Bennet felt the same way.  

All in all, Austenland was no more surprising than any romcom I’ve ever seen, but I still enjoyed it quite thoroughly.  I appreciate that it wasn’t all about romance, it was about Jane finding herself and learning the power she has over her own life. The writing was very whimsical and fun, and Austenesque in a nudge-nudge, wink-wink sort of way that had me smiling more often than not.

Likelihood that I'll be back for more:  Yes!  I was lucky enough to receive an ARC copy of Midnight in Austenland and will certainly be reading it soon.

Recommended for: Um...pretty much anyone who’s stared longingly at Colin Firth in a wet shirt.  You know who you are.  Also fans of Bridget Jones, this is very much in the same vein, but more fun to me because of the Pembrook Park setting.

Real life repercussions of reading this book: You mean other than watching the BBC Pride and Prejudice for the upteenth time and watching certain scenes over and over again?  I suppose I should stand up and admit: My name’s Heidi, and sometimes, I like to read romance.


  1. I am definitely going to have to read this and buy it for my mom! This sounds absolutely wonderful. I can appreciate Austen, though she is not my favorite. I will definitely be giving this a shot.

    Great review. :D

    1. Thanks! This is a great one that can easily span generations for enjoyment. It's so short and sweet, it's easy to breeze through in an afternoon.

  2. This is one of my favorite Austen inspired books. :) Yay that you liked it! I really liked the ending too. I thought there was a great "things in common" moment. It sounds like it's not that you don't like romance, but that you just like a certain KIND of romance. Maybe more contemporary, more comedy is for you. You might like BET ME by Jennifer Crusie, if you haven't already read it. That's my go-to recommendation. A lot of people who feel like they don't really like romance like that one.

    1. Yes! I think that that's it! I really enjoy the comedy. I've tried to read more serious romance a time or two and just felt really uncomfortable. I will definitely take you up on your suggestion since I've heard good things about Jennifer Crusie in general. A fairly new thing for me, but I'd like to pursue the genre more because I've really enjoyed it.

  3. Nothing wrong with reading romance. :-)

    Okay so Shannon Hale is really a fantastic author and Austenland kind of never really appealed to me before because it's not like Goose Girl or anything. BUT your review kind of changed my mind, I actually really want to read Austenland now.

    Also, the Colin Firth wet shirt? YES PLEASE.

    1. There ISN'T anything wrong with reading romance! I'm just now getting to that age where I can openly embrace things that would have embarrassed me when I was younger, because who cares? If you like it, GREAT!

      This was my first Shannon Hale, and I know it's really different from her work for younger readers, but it was totally charming. I'm glad you want to read it now! Excited to hear what you think when you do. =)

  4. Considering my own Mr. Darcy obsession...I think I need to read this one!!!

  5. I was surprised by how much I loved this one, it was SO MUCH FUN! And I am 100% going to be picking up the sequel as well. Hope we both love it :)

    1. Me too! I've heard it's VERY different. More of a mystery and less of a light romance. I'm still planning to read it, but I'm happy to know going in that it's supposed to be quite different from Austenland.


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