“Austenland” – Could “Pride and Prejudice” Become A Nightmare Rather Than A Dream?

Book Review : Austenland by Shannon Hale

Spoiler Alert!

Jane Hayes has a career in New York, is single and secretly obsessed with Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice (especially Collin Firth from the BBC production). All of the past romances have ended because Jane longs for a better man, her own Mr. Darcy. An unexpected windfall comes Jane’s way when a wealthy aunt dies leaving an all paid vacation to a Regency replica resort, and it is non-refundable. Going against her more reasonable thoughts, Jane  heads off to England to put her obsession behind her. Once there, she finds it is harder than she expects to fit into the time period though she does her best to flirt and dance. Some of the other participants are unseemly and Jane feels somewhat like an outsider, leading to developing a friendship with Martin, a common gardener. The three available gentleman, Colonel Andrews, Captain East and Mr. Nobley flirt with the women and help fulfill their fantasies.  Mr. Nobley is quite taciturn and inexorably is thrown into Jane’s company, despite her dislike of the brooding gentleman. Even though it is all a game, Jane discovers her insecurities begin to leave her until a new turn of events leave her foundering to find the truth. Perhaps her obsession will finally be put to rest, and then again maybe not.

Adult Point of View

I would only recommend you read Austenland if you are a fan of Jane Austen because the novel is full of references to Austen’s works and inside humor. I quite enjoyed Hale’s first novel written for adults, though I could actually wish it was a bit longer.

Mrs. Wattlesbrook is as conniving as any Regency mother with unmarried daughters. Mr. Nobley is aloof as Mr. Darcy and Martin approachable in a world stagnant with protocol. The minor character Miss Charming is a prime example of a fantasy taken too far as she flaunts herself oblivious to the effect of her charms.

The most interesting theme to explore is fantasy vs reality. Women obsess over Pride and Prejudice (as well as other books or movies) to the point that it actually hampers living life. Perhaps there are men who do the same thing, but in my experience men are much more likely to obsess over things like cars and sports.

Pembrook Park has a dirty little secret that ALL the actors are paid, even the likeable Martin, to woo the patrons of the establishment, so that everyone’s fantasies will be fulfilled. When is it crossing the line from a job to a real romance, and is it the actor’s job to be careful of the patrons’ feelings? Such ethical concerns lead to more questions and concerns for Jane as she tries to deduce if she is flirting with the actor or the man behind the mask. If Pembrook Park was a real establishment it could quickly become a nightmare leaving desperate, vulnerable women broken-hearted and even more disillusioned rather than fulfilling a dream. However, as a book it is fun and delightful to picture yourself living the privileged and proper Regency life.

I have wondered if Austenland should have ended with Jane being stronger, self-assured and alone. She had made so many mistakes in her past boyfriends it seems the best plan for her would be to actually becomes friends first (the advice of many a good mother) prior to becoming romantically enamored. Even so, I am a sucker for love and the girl getting the right guy and so I was happy for Jane that “Mr. Nobley” came through for her. I will hold onto the fantasy that he will turn out to be “Mr. Right”, at least until the next book comes out. Austenland is a fun, light read and I would recommend it, even Jr. High kids could enjoy it if they are familiar with the books and movie Hale references.

3.5 out of 5 stars

– the Mother

I finally got around to watching the movie and loved it, roared with laughter and then had to watch it again the next day.

Then after watching the movie I had to go back and read the book. The basic plot line is the same though the way it is executed varies. I loved both for a fun time. Even my husband thought the movie was funny and he expected it to be a joke.

Book Review : Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale

Spoiler Alert!

Charlotte Kinder is nice. She always has been nice, it’s just what she does. Charlotte’s husband has not been so nice, having had an affair and left his wife and children. After several blind dates Charlotte decides it is time to get away, not just from the country, but to a different time. She comes to Pembrook Park playing the part of Mrs. Charlotte Cordial. Mr. Mallery is brooding, Mr. Grey is fun-loving, Colonel Andrews is theatrical, Miss Gardenside is recovering from consumption and Miss Charming still has her youthful exuberance. The line between reality and play become blurred as Pembrook’s guests try to solve an ancient mystery, discover that a couple of their companions are missing, a secret room and a floating ghost. Finally, Charlotte questions, is love still possible?

Adult Point of View

Midnight in Austenland has gothic elements and some of the characters mimic Jane Austen’s people. Gothic elements include the weather reflecting the mood, the Abby ruins, a ghost, Mr. Mallery has Byronic hero characteristics and a mystery that the pure heroine, Charlotte needs to resolve. Even though there are many Gothic elements, Midnight in Austenland does not have the foreboding nature of the true Gothic novel, rather it is light and it seems these elements are used a bit more tongue in cheek. As was seen in the first book, Austenland, there are characters that specifically are drawn after the character of Mr. Darcy as Mr. Mallery, and to a degree Miss Elizabeth as Charlotte, though she feels she is not witty she is insightful. Miss Charming’s character is filled out more making her more interesting and the foibles of mankind are present in many of the characters, such as Mrs. Wattlesbrook and her husband.

Overall, this was a fun, light read that had me laughing out-loud. These quirky throw-away sentences are among my favorite, such as, “It’s just a hobby, she told herself. Nothing serious. She had to adjust that opinion after she made here first million.” (p.61) Even though I guessed who had been murdered and the murderer (which you notice I am resisting revealing) I had fun watching Charlotte, who is clever, to figure it all out in her own time. In the first Austenland it felt creepy that one of the characters was going through the farce of falling in love at Pembrook Park when she was married, this time around all the girls were legitimately single and it lost that slightly weird feeling. If I was to grade this book on nothing other than pure enjoyment I would give it a big 4+ stars.

As a literary work Midnight in Austenland does not explore themes to make this a classic novel. I was surprised at some of the more adult comments that were peppered throughout the text. There were also a few curse words and sketchy situations which surprised me knowing that Hale comes from a religious background that does not condone such behavior. Perhaps I am putting Hale up against an unfair standard because there really is nothing explicit. Though this is written for adults, older teens could read it and enjoy it if they are familiar with Austen’s novels or characters like Heathcliff and Rochester.

I wonder if Hale’s moral to the story is choose a nice man who makes you laugh over the tall, dark and mysterious man?

3.5 stars out of 5

-Michelle

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About Tales Untangled

I am a mother of four children and have a passion for reading. I love sharing my treasury of books with my kids. I also do experiments in cooking which includes such things as Indian Tandoori Chicken slow cooked in a tagine. Weekly I get together with friends and go to yoga for a bit of mommy time. Some may find me quirky, I prefer to think I am one of a kind.
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