Book Review : Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale
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