Thursday, 20 June 2013

'Austenland' by Shannon Hale (2007)

Synopsis: Jane Hayes is a single, 30-something New Yorker who is obsessed with the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and with Colin Firth's Mr Darcy. Jane can't meet a single man who compares and she fears that this obsession is ruining her love life. But then Jane's rich great-aunt dies; and she discovers that her great-aunt has left her with the money to go on a Jane Austen-themed manor house holiday in England. This manor house is called Pembrook Park and it's a place where Jane can be completely immersed in Austen's world for three weeks. Jane sees this as the perfect opportunity to exorcise her Mr Darcy obsession. I don't get this either.

I chose to read this book because I wanted some light-reading after going through the epic tome that is Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. I wasn't expecting Austenland to be a work of genius but I thought it might be reasonably entertaining. It sounded a bit like ITV's Lost in Austen only better. I liked the idea of a book set in New York and a Regency-themed manor house. However I ended up really disliking Austenland. It's insipid and very chick lit/rom com-ish. It isn't particularly well-written. The romance is lukewarm and is lacking in any real passion. The secondary characters are all flat and poorly-developed, and Jane comes across as a ditsy idiot most of the time. She thinks that immersing herself into Austen's world is actually going to help her get over her Mr Darcy obsession which is just bizarre. What's also very confusing is that Jane repeatedly claims to be "obsessed" with Pride and Prejudice but she doesn't seem to have the slightest interest in the story apart from the romance aspect of it and Colin Firth's Mr Darcy. She doesn't seem to know the first thing about Regency manners, customs, language or anything either.

To be fair there are some amusing moments in Austenland and the ending does have a few twists. But hang on a minute, is that really such a good thing? In every single Austen novel the heroine goes on a journey of self-discovery, and the reader knows well before the end what the happy ending should be for that particular heroine. We know which man is going to make the heroine happy and which man we should be rooting for. So the fact that I wasn't sure which guy Jane would actually end up with and make her happy shows a weakness in character development. It's not really a skilful plot twist.

Rating: 1.5/5

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