OK, so I haven’t watched the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice once, let alone a hundred times. But I still do swoon over Jane Austen’s romances. I mean, really, how could I not?
One of the latest books to meet the needs of Austen-addicted modern women is Shannon Hale’s Austenland. It’s Hale’s first venture into adult fiction from her award-winning young-adult writing, and she does a fine job of addressing more mature readers’ interests without adding “mature content.”
Jane Hayes, the heroine of the novel, gets to go on a three-week Austen-style immersion vacation in England when her rich great-aunt dies and leaves her a paid-for package deal. Having a serious thing for Darcy but no serious history of real, full-bodied, contemporary romances of her own, she realizes she probably has a bit of a problem. Embarrassed, she decides to just go on the vacation and look her demon in the face before she flings it aside to look for men who actually exist today.
On the flight, Jane prepares herself for the experience by familiarizing herself with Regency customs. If she doesn’t play the role absolutely correctly, she could be kicked out. She gets to wear authentic clothes, a bonus, but she has to hand over her modern devices, which she is not pleased about.
Jane fumbles her way through what she considers an embarrassing charade. Sure, she’s always longed deep-down for her real life to be full of gallant men and the quaint customs of the Austen books, but play-acting it for three weeks is just a full-on reminder of how pitiful both her real and fantasy lives are.
The other participants in this charade serve to confuse her as well as any characters. The “gentlemen” visiting the estate are played by well-trained actors who are paid to be attentive, so it’s impossible to experience anything real. And dealing with the other paying guests, some ludicrous and some very authentic, is quite an experience.
Jane’s excursion in “Austenland” mirrors the plots of Austen’s books; a cad deludes and confuses her, and other characters, male and female, aren’t what they seem. The ending, naturally, is happy.
Austenland is an entertaining read, perfect for anyone who just can’t get enough Darcy.
Rated: Mild, for six uses of mild/moderate language usage and some mild sensual references (the author herself said this book would be like a “PG” movie.)