Kelly_Instalove's Reviews > Austenland

Austenland by Shannon Hale
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Nov 05, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: era-contemporary, genre-romance, theme-austen
Read on December 08, 2011

I debated for a while between two and three stars, but ultimately had to go with only two - which I very rarely do. While it wasn't painful, it was disappointing and I can't think of anyone I'd recommend it to.

My daughter and I *loved* Princess Academy, so I was really looking forward to see what a Newbery honoree could do with some grown-up Austen fluff. Unfortunately, it was a weird combination of too much and not enough.

The "too much" included the "are they or aren't they?" angst (trying to avoid spoilers here, but not THAT kind of "are they" so get your mind out of the gutter). By about halfway through, it was pretty apparent who was "real" and who wasn't, and I felt kind of insulted by the pseudo-suspense. The fantasy camp was more like a middle school cafeteria.

Also on the "too much" list: the unnecessary and often irrelevant jackhammering of nearly every Austen hero and heroine into the plot-within-a-plot - with some Sterne, Radcliffe, two (count 'em, two!) Brontes and even Hawthorne thrown in for extra impressiveness. The literary name-dropping was about as subtle as a brick, and while I'm being snarky, The Scarlet Letter was Puritan Massachusetts, not Regency England. Oh, almost forgot the Bridget Jones's Diary "manly dueling without weapons" at the end. Ugh.

The most irritating "WAY too much" was the unrelenting insistence on making the P&P-obsessed heroine completely oblivious to the Mr. Darcy breathing down her neck. I think anyone who has read the book or seen the movie more than once will feel the same urge I did to smack the heroine upside the head in disgust. I had the same reaction to the first hour of "Lost in Austen," but that finally won me over because that heroine cared more for others than for herself. After five or six chapters of this heroine's ansgty internal whining, I came very close to giving up.

The "not enough" - and the major source of disappointment - was the complete lack of subtlety throughout the entire book. Every chapter had at least one hit-you-over-the-head "HEY THIS IS ONE OF THOSE AUSTEN REFERENCE PLOT DEVICES WINK WINK" with zilch for charm or imagination. Think Looney Tunes anvil-dropping subtlety. The author tried very, very hard to prove her Austen-worthiness, and that "take me seriously" earnestness was very, very obvious.

Except for one masterfully subtle, but probably unintended, Mansfield Park allusion: Mrs. Wattlesbrook = Mrs. Norris. The book needed more of her as the hovering villain undermining the heroine with digs about propriety and "Ideal Guests."

Unfortunately, Austenland is an example of a wonderful author doing a complete 180 and getting the "show, don't tell" thing really, really wrong. Skip this and read Princess Academy and watch Lost in Austen. Trust me.

........

OK, one last nit-picky snark: It's not a vest, it's a waistcoat. Gah. Where in the hell were her editors?
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