Hale, Shannon. Austenland: A Novel (2007). 193 Pages. Bloomsbury. $19.95
Thirty-three year-old Jane Hayes– like many women– has an unhealthy obsession with Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberly, specifically the version of him portrayed by the fabulous Colin Firth*. When her Great-Aunt Carolyn dies and leaves her a trip to the Austen-themed Pembrook Park, Jane views it as a chance to excise her obsession through gluttony.
When she arrives at Pembrook Park, she is versed in the rules of the era, stripped of all traces of the modern world, corseted, and sent to the manor** to live with historical accuracy (or something resembling it) for three full weeks. While she is at the manor, she is to be known as Miss Jane Erstwhile, and she is to behave like a proper lady. Also at the manor are Miss Charming and Miss Heartwright, who are both valued, repeat customers– something Jane will never be, due to her financial situation. For the enjoyment of the ladies, gorgeous gentlemen have been gathered; the Darcy-esque Mr Nobley, the handsome Colonel Andrews, and the dashing Captain East.
It takes some time for Jane to get over the silliness of the whole experience (as well as the difficulty she faces as the least affluent and thus least desirable guest).Despite this, Jane finds herself drawn to both the very 21st-century Martin the gardener (who shows her that it is possible to not compare every man to Mr Darcy), as well as Mr Nobley who embodies everything Austen’s books have brought her to desire. As she relaxes into the game, she finds her desires changing, allowing her to leave Pembrook Park as a new Jane.
Austenland is cute, but not deep. Jane is the sort of character who draws you in with her clumsy charm, and keeps you rooting for her as she stumbles along the path toward her goal. She manages to both fumble completely, and still wind up happy at the end. (And, big surprise, she gets the guy- though I won’t say which one). I feel like the end of the book would have been better if she had been more self-reliant, instead of wrapping up with a romance, and as much as I love romance, it does pain me to admit that it didn’t quite work right here.
The Quick Version:
As a whole, I feel that while this book was entertaining (they all are, to some degree), and I liked Jane, the story could have been better. It kept me busy for a few hours, and did manage to slip in some Austen humor. The romance is (mostly) believable, and does work, though the end feels a bit too much like a happily-ever-after. It gets a 3 out of 5.
* Many Pride and Prejudice fans are polarized, and their Mr Darcy is either Firth or Macfayden. (Which one is yours?)