Bree T's Reviews > Austenland

Austenland by Shannon Hale
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's review
Jun 18, 11

bookshelves: chick-lit, library-reads, romance, series, women-s-fiction
Read on June 02, 2011

Thirty-something year old Jane lives in New York and has a good job. What she doesn’t have is ‘the one’ and her relationship history is littered with disaster. She’s an obsessive, labelling boyfriends as such far before they ever actually fit that criteria. Her desire for perfection has led her to become enamored with Mr Darcy, or more accurately, Colin Firth’s portrayal of Mr Darcy in the 1995 BBC mini-series of Pride & Prejudice. Such an obsession with this character isn’t a new thing – after all Bridget Jones has been there, done that and quite a while ago. And having seen this mini-series (and being a fan, although not to this extent!) I can well understand the attraction.

A wealthy relative of Jane’s bequeaths her a trip to England to stay in an English resort which promises an authentic Austen experience in the hope that Jane will be cured of her Darcy obsession and be able to realistically find a partner. Jane will stay for 3 weeks in a stately home, dress in 1800′s clothes, observe 1800′s manners and proprieties, eat 1800′s food and socialise the way that Austen’s characters did.

When she arrives, Jane is asked to surrender all her “technological equipment” such as cell phones and MP3 players and then measured and fitted for corsets and gowns. She is then dispatched to the house as a ‘niece’ of actors playing parts to guarantee a genuine Austen experience. Country gentleman visit and spend the day with paying customers, playing roles and other guests, staying in other locations play a social part as well. Despite her interest in Darcy, Jane finds it all a bit hard to take the experience seriously and she finds herself escaping outside alone, often at night. It isn’t long before she is indulging in a fliration with the gardener (also a sort of actor, but strongly discouraged from having relationships with the guests, that’s for the actual actors inside!) and sparring with one of said actors in a vaguely Lizzie-Darcy esque scenario where he’s aloof and she’s sassy.

Can three weeks immersed in Austen’s time cure Jane of her unrealistic goals of obtaining a Mr Darcy all of her own? Or will the biggest surprise of all be the fact that Mr Darcy might actually be right in front of her?

While I read this book in a couple of hours, it was one of those ones where I closed it at the end and thought why? Why did I just read that all the way through? I’ve heard good things about this author and reading a few reviews of her YA work, there are plenty of good ones. But this book is just such a… nothing book.

Firstly the main character Jane, is pretty much the stereotypical chick lit over 30 character. Yes she has a nice apartment in New York, yes she has a good job (although we never see her at said job), a married best friend with twins, a disastrous love history, which is detailed throughout the book in possibly the only amusing part of it through little anecdotes in the order in which they appeared in her life. Much is made of Jane’s ‘obsession’ with Mr Darcy but to be honest, I didn’t ever really feel like it was such a huge deal. Yes she owned the DVD’s, yes she hid them in a pot plant and watched them a lot but really that was kind of it. She didn’t date Mr Darcy clones or treat every relationship (or potential one) like the courtship of Darcy and Elizabeth. Her biggest problem seemed to be that she read too much into these ‘relationships’ and scared guys off with her neediness.

Once she actually arrives at the Regency experience house, the plot absolutely crawls – there are secondary characters that are either pretty much nothing characters, or are overblown comedic attempts that fall flat. There’s a love triangle, which isn’t my favourite inclusion in any storyline, especially when it’s really difficult to tell exactly who you’re supposed to be cheering for. I like it to be clear which character the protagonist is going to end up with, and the third character to mostly just be a device to block the path of true love while the protagonist tries to sort out the hero from the villain. I actually felt like I was cheering for the wrong one right up until the end and that the one I did want Jane to end up with was not going to be the one she did actually end up with. This dragged on for far too long and actually, the entire ending was just unrealistic and a bit silly in a novel that is apparently trying to cure its main character of fancies and daydreams!

I’ve read quite a lot of chick lit but this is definitely not up there in the top bracket. Even though this novel is only less than 200 pages, it really drags out for more than half the book, crawling at a snail’s pace and the main character is like every bad stereotype bundled up in one package for this book. There’s not a breath of originality about her, nor is there any character development anywhere to be seen in this novel. For me, Jane, when she leaves, is still exactly the same as she was when she arrived.

Definitely disappointing.

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