Review: Austenland by Shannon Hale

Book cover of Austenland by Shannon Hale

I actually performed the unthinkable with Austenland – I watched the film first. I know, I know. Please don’t revoke my Pretentious Reader Licence. In my defence, I didn’t know it was a book until I was half-watching the credits after the movie, and then I got super excited about it because I LOVED THAT FILM.

Plot summary: Jane is a young New York woman who can never seem to find the right man-perhaps because of her secret obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. When a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-obsessed women, however, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become more real than she ever could have imagined. Is this total immersion in a fake Austenland enough to make Jane kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?

Normally I’m not that fond of Pride and Prejudice-derived TV shows, books or films, especially American-made ones. They never seem to get the tone right somehow, or it’s dumbed down so much I can’t watch it without cringing. I only watched Austenland because my sulky objections were drowned out… and then I ended up loving it and naturally changing my contrary, cynical ways forever more. Or for the succeeding five minutes, whichever. 

Thing is, because I’d seen and loved the film, it took me a while to get into the book. There was absolutely nothing wrong with it, but they’re almost identical. Normally this is a blessing as I’m the first to complain when a film takes too many liberties, but that’s usually when I’ve read the book first and often with a gap of a few months.

When you see the film only a few weeks before reading the novel, it’s difficult to concentrate when you’re reading a word-for-word account of what you’ve already watched on the screen. There’s no problem with Shannon Hale’s writing or prose at all… it’s just that I’d already been there once.

However, I did eventually get into it and I put down the novel smiling like a child (albeit a child who is ill-advisedly allowed to read adult romance and has an obsessive understanding of Jane Austen). It’s just such a lovely, uplifting book that restores your faith in happy ever after.

The ending is a little bit OTT, but I suppose we’re not exactly going for hyper-realism here, are we? Or at least, I hope not, because I can’t imagine who would ever go play dress-up in an English mansion where men pretend to fall in love with you. Ugh. I’ll stick to 2015, thanks – the men are awful and do nothing but whistle as you walk down the street, but at least they’re honest in their misogyny…

Austenland by Shannon Hale - Colin Firth dedicationThe one thing that annoyed me is how profoundly American this book is. If you’re going to set a book in England, at least try. I know that the main character, Jane, is American, but that’s not an excuse. They keep referring to the BBC drama (the one with Colin Firth) AS A MOVIE, for God’s sake. 

Plus she can’t quite get that English half-playful, half-sarcastic, Bennett-esque banter right. She tries, and it’s obvious what the author is going for, but most of the time she’s just downright nasty to the Darcy knock-off.

Anyway, I loved this book and it pretty much put me in a good mood for two days straight. There’s a fun twist, cute romance and and it’s just generally lovely. I also highly recommend Austenland, the film version, although perhaps don’t watch them too close together 🙂

Visit Shannon Hale’s website or find her on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Ellie says:

    If I haven't already read it, maybe I'll take Midnight in Austenland on holiday so that I can report back and let you know how it compares. It's still in The Works at the moment, I think, so not too late to grab a copy for £1.99. 🙂

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