Friday, September 7, 2007
Austenland: a novel by Shannon Hale
Summary (from Publishers Weekly): "In 32-year-old singleton Jane Hayes's mind, no man in the world can measure up to Fitzwilliam Darcy—specifically the Fitzwilliam played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Jane is forced to confront her Austen obsession when her wealthy great-aunt Carolyn dies and leaves her an all-expenses-paid vacation to Pembrook Park, a British resort where guests live like the characters in Jane's beloved Austen novels. Jane sees the trip as an opportunity for one last indulgence of her obsession before she puts it "all behind her—Austen, men, fantasies, period," but the lines between reality and fiction become pleasantly blurred as Jane acclimates to the world of Spencer jackets and stringent etiquette rules, and finds herself torn between the Darcyesque Mr. Nobley and a forbidden tryst with Pembrook Park's gardener."
Who would enjoy it: I definitely think you have to be an Austen fan for this one. I am one, but even I lost some of the references, having not read them in at least 10 years. For someone who hasn't read her books, especially Pride and Prejudice, this wouldn't do much. But then, that person wouldn't know of the joys of Mr. Darcy and pick this one up, probably.
- I loved the Colin Firth references. Hale even dedicates the book to him: "You're a really great guy, but I'm married, so I think we should just be friends." And at one point Jane says something about how she can't explain her obsession to a man with something like "if you were a woman, I'd just have to say "Colin Firth in a dripping shirt" and you'd understand." (And believe me, I do!)
- The blurbs about Jane's horrible luck with her former boyfriends are a hoot, if rather sad in some cases.
- Jane manages a bit of clever Austen-esque banter and impresses Nobley with "Together we must be Impertience and Inflexibility" - that could've been a good Austen novel, I'm sure. :)
Overall: This was a fun book. It's not the deepest book in the world and as PW points out, the supporting characters aren't the strongest. But then, they're not really meant to be - they're supposed to be actors, caricatures. I didn't always know what to think about Jane - sometimes I felt sorry for her, sometimes I admired her wit, sometimes I wanted her to stop whining about her Darcy obsession and get on with her life. But overall, I liked her and the happy ending is really nice, with a bit of misdirection - you know there's going to be a happy ending, but you're not quite sure what it will be - bachelor #1, bachelor #2, or just Jane being happy with herself.
Part of me thought it would be great fun to go to Austenland, but Jane's experience reveals it to be rather boring and false. Maybe I could find a really well-done Austenland that threw in the Colin Firth-in-a-wet-shirt experience. :)