Sunday, September 20, 2009

Book 7: Austenland by Shannon Hale

I'm not sure if I've made this adequately clear in the past, but I am not a huge fan of Jane Austen's.  While her stuff is, yes, entertaining to a degree, I can't help but feel like every story is the same and every character is just a reconstituted Mr. Darcy or Ms. Bennett.  And, yeah, her characters sometimes have rather witty, snarkastic (sarcastic + snarky; I think it's clever) things to say, but nothing from a Jane Austen novel has ever inspired me to love, admire, or even loathe her characters.  
In light of this, I find it highly amusing that Shannon Hale's Austenland, a novel entirely concerned with Jane Austen and the women who love her work, is one of my favorite frivolous reads of all time.  I say "frivolous" simply because, having read a few of Hale's other novels, I can safely call Austenland one of her more playful endeavors (it's meant to be funny and ridiculous, unlike Goose Girl which is much more literary in nature, for lack of a better description).  
The plot of Austenland is as follows:  Jane Hayes is a successful working woman living in New York.  She has, it seems, everything a girl wants--beauty, youth, a good job.  Everything, that is, except a healthy love life.  Jane is a Pride and Prejudice addict of the highest order and a lover of everything Jane Austen.  And she is obsessed--OBSESSED--with Mr. Darcy.  No real boyfriend could possibly compare in her eyes to the perfection that is Fitzwilliam Darcy.  It's a guilty habit--one she's aware of and knows, on some level, that she has to get rid of if she wants to move on with her life.  So when a recently-deceased relative wills her an all-expenses-paid trip to an English resort built specifically with her type in mind--that is, a three-week immersion in a re-creation of Regency England that caters to the Austen-obsessed--Jane decides to go on the eccentric vacation for one last hurrah before dumping the Darcy habit for good. 
For three weeks she dresses in ball gowns, learns the talk and the manners, dances, and interacts with Martin the Gardener and the broody Mr. Nobly (or is it the actors they're played by?) and the other vacationers, and she eventually finds herself in her element, thriving in the synthetic setting and loving it.  The true question by the end of the vacation is this:  will she bid Pembroke Park adieu having left the obsession in the past or will she, perhaps, end up with a flesh-and-blood Mr. Darcy of her own? 
It's a seriously delightful novel, and a very quick read.  It's chick-lit, to be sure, but even the most straight-laced readers will have to laugh and sigh with the believable and relatable character that Hale creates in Jane Hayes.  The narrative reads with an ease and a wit that I really can't get enough of.  
Yeah, maybe it does have a happy ending, but it's so much better than that.

Grade:  A+
Rating:  14+ for (ew omgsh) making out, etc.

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