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Review: Austenland by Shannon Hale

Summary

Jane is a young New York woman who can never seem to find the right man—perhaps because of her secret obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. But when a wealthy relative bequeaths to her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-obsessed women, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentlemen suddenly become more real than she ever could have imagined. Is this total immersion in a fake Austenland enough to make Jane kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?

Review

If you are a woman, then you have had (or still do have) a fake or imaginary boyfriend. And if you are a woman who reads, then you have a book boyfriend, a male counterpart that is equal to you and completes you in very single way, however they are not real. But that’s okay. This is one relationship with no break up in sight.

And no one understands that better than our leading lady Jane Hayes. Jane is obsessed with Mr. Darcy from Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, and only Colin Firth’s impersonation of the aristocrat from the BBC series will satisfy her. Unfortunately, one cannot marry a fictional character or an imitation of one and today’s man has not evolved or rather, de-evolved from Darcy mannerisms; thus leaving Jane to fantasize about a man that will never exist to be.

That is until reality takes over again and she is left to deal with subpar men. Yet Jane happens to get a gift from her recently deceased Great Aunt Carolyn, who discovers Jane’s love of Darcy on her last visit with Jane’s mother. And Aunt Carolyn decides to leave Jane an all expenses paid trip to Austenland, which turns out to be a place where you can revisit the time of the Austen era.

At first Jane is cautious. She doesn’t want to slip further into insanity than she already has, but when will she get another opportunity to actually live in the time period that was Jane Austen. Well, she could with a time machine, but who knows when science will advance to such a thing. So she decides to go and have one last hoorah before she officially gives up Mr. Darcy forever.

Jane travels to England where she literally steps back in time into the Jane Austen worlds. There are carriages that take her everywhere she has to go, there are bloomers and corsets and boots. However, she has to give up her modern devices and even her modern clothes. Suddenly Jane’s skepticism slips back in and some of her resolve fizzles a little. That is until she meets the men.

First Jane meets the gardener, one of the tallest men she has ever met and feels a connection. And Jane realizes maybe she wants to hang on to reality, or rather, get reacquainted with it. If there are more men like this gardener, maybe she really can put her obsession with Darcy to rest. That is until she meets the gentlemen. Tall, proper, polite, gentlemanly with long coat tails and snug breeches and shiny black boots, everything Jane has ever wanted in a Mr. Darcy.

There is a Colonel Andrews and a Mr. Nobley. Colonel Andrews is charming, energizing and engaging. While Mr. Nobley is certainly the more Darcy of the two, his attitude is so pompous and off-putting, Jane wonders if Mr. Darcy was truly this arrogant and how could she ever have fallen in love with him? Could Mr. Nobley grow and change the way Darcy did for Elizabeth? Or is her fantasy about to burst before she has even begun?

So far so good. Jane is really getting into the swing of things, although, there is no gym. How do Austen women stay so fit? Was it the corsets that suck everything in and make you sit straight up as though a rod were up your back? And the conversations, how much can one say about the weather? And it all seems so polite, as if no one wants or even is allowed to say something indecent. Heaven forbid one be cad in front of lady. And all the sitting! Being a New York, on the go woman, Jane isn’t used to all this relaxing. In all honestly, Jane feels utterly bored and wonders how Austen ever could write such romances since the women could never be alone with the men and no one ever says what they really mean? Maybe Jane is the one fantasizing the Austen novels into something they never were. Reality was starting to look real good to Jane right about now.

The gardener is her reality since he isn’t really one of the actors. However, Jane is enjoying being fussed over and though Mr. Nobley is a sourpuss, he too has taking an interest in Jane. Albeit just witty banter or rather polite bickering, still Jane is enjoying herself. Now Jane must decide here and now to truly see Austenland through the end and kick her Darcy obsession or throw in the towel for reality? Who knows, maybe she could write her own little Austen adventure and get the Mr. Darcy. How will she know if she doesn’t try?

Austenland is a novel for all us women who have been in love with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and especially Mr. Darcy himself. This novel is kind of like a mirror showing us the crazy delusion we have been living and either helping us see the light or furthering our denial that is Darcy. Austenland shows the downside to having a fictitious boyfriend. That sometimes you lose touch with reality and could miss out on a really good thing. Also, this novel shows us that living in a fantasy could cause us to lose sight of reality. So not only do we miss out on things, but have no idea what is real and fake anymore, and skepticism is all we have left to comfort us. Although most importantly, and this kind of contracts the two earlier points, our Darcy is out there and we really can have him if keep just a little of the fantasy and open our eyes to what could be out there. Basically, have a little faith and the man of your dreams will come your way.

Reviewed by Camia Rhodes

Publication date: 5/27/2008
Pages: 208

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