Monday, August 24, 2015

Austenland by Shannon Hale

 Reviewed by Ambrea

Austenland by Shannon Hale, like all good novels involving Jane Austen and her famed Pride and Prejudice, begins with a familiar (if altered) refrain:

“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 very 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?”

Jane is a young woman living in New York who can never seem to meet Mr. Right—mostly because she is secretly obsessed with Pride and Prejudice and can’t seem to find a man who stands up to Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy.  But when a wealthy relative leaves Jane a special trip to Austenland, an English resort catering to Austen-obsessed ladies, Jane hopes that total immersion into regency-era England will help her kick her Austen habit for good.

But when she meets Martin for the first time—an actor turned gardener for a paycheck—and Mr. Nobley, she realizes that her decision to go to Austenland might not turn out the way she initially anticipated.  Will she find her Mr. Darcy, or will she nix her obsession for good?

I liked that Jane—of course her name is Jane—is an average, relatable heroine.  She’s smart, rather charming and quirky, but she’s also dynamic and self-sufficient and hopelessly confused about romance.  (She’s also a ninja, but that’s neither here nor there.)  And Hale does an excellent job bringing her character to life, writing in a style that seems to harken back to Austen without making it inaccessible or boring.

Austenland is a genuinely funny novel, and Jane is an endearing heroine.  The characters are enjoyable, worth loving or hating alternately, and the story is captivating by turns.  It’s easy to become embroiled in Jane’s story, wondering whether she’s going to find the man of her dreams or discover something worth knowing about herself.

Although I enjoyed Austenland, I won’t say that it’s my favorite novel.  Hale is an excellent author and I would definitely recommend reading some of her work; however, I found that I lost interested in this novel at different times.  Sometimes, the pace smoothed out and I was captivated, but, other times, I found myself wishes I was reading something else.  Overall, I think it’s worth reading, but I could have probably lived with just seeing the movie instead.

As an aside, I will say that Austenland has one of the best dedications I’ve ever seen in a book.  I probably laughed more than I should have about it.

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