Book Review: Austenland

austenlandAustenland
by Shannon Hale
Published by: Bloomsbury USA
Form: Kindle eBook*
Big Themes: Jane Austen, Obsession, Love, Authenticity, Identity, Regency Era

Summary:
Jane has an obsession with Jane Austen, but more specifically with Mr. Darcy and the BBC production starring Colin Firth.  Her obsession with Mr. Darcy seems to ruin her love life because no man can live up to Darcy’s fictional character.  A wealthy relative passes away and bequeaths to Jane an extravagant vacation: a three-week trip to Austenland, where women pay to live the Austen experience firsthand.  Jane hopes the trip will help her cure her obsession by getting her Mr. Darcy fantasy out of her system.  However, will the gentlemen remain just actors to her?  Or will something real, love perhaps, blossom in this fantasy land?

*I’ve had a fierce moral struggle with purchasing eBooks from Amazon.  However, I have a bunch of eBooks that I purchased before I started boycotting.  And I’ve decided to read those, since I already paid for them.

Reading an ADULT book?!  What?!
I don’t normally read books aimed at adults.  I’m normally a middle grade and YA reader.  But I met Shannon Hale at the National Book Festival and LOVE HER.  I’ve read nearly all her middle grade/YA titles, and knew she had this Austen-based series.  So I decided to give Austenland a shot, considering I’m such a devoted fan of her other books.

What I Loved:

Cute Concept: I think most girls who enjoy reading period piece or watching films set pre-1900’s would admit to fantasizing about wearing long, beautiful dresses and attending a ball.  We modern gals still love our blue jeans, yoga pants, and mini-skirts.  However, the 21st century certainly does not present a young lady with many opportunities to don a ball gown.  Hence, why I think many ladies out there would love the premise of Austenland: a vacation where you get to wear empire waist gowns every day and be courted by gentlemen in breeches, culminating in a romantic ball.  Uh yeah.  Sounds pretty fun to me.

Authentic Conflict: As fun as this whole Austenland vacation sounds, the conflict created by this very premise is what had me turning pages.  How would I feel playing pretend and knowing the gentlemen in Austenland were actors being paid to sweep me off my feet?  I empathized with Jane because I would have had trouble tricking my brain into buying the experience and playing along.  I would have constantly been questioning whether the men wooing me were just acting or if there were some real sparks flying…?  This was a very organic conflict that kept me reading.

Criticism:

Predictability: Readers with knowledge of Pride and Prejudice will be able to predict the story’s ending with ease.  That’s the tough part when you’re doing any sort of retelling–making the ending both similar to the original but fresh enough to be satisfying.  I felt like the ending wasn’t quite satisfying enough.  The final scene was cute, but lacked pay off for me because I saw it coming so far back.

Depth of Romance/Execution: I think the romantic tension could have been heightened had the author played around more with the fake actor/real love dilemma.  I felt like it was all too obvious who was real and who was just acting.  Jane was confused, but I wasn’t, so that leads me to think the drama was not executed as well as it could have been.  I wanted to be feeling the confusion and tension along with Jane, but instead I felt like I was simply watching her figure out what I already knew.

Overall:
Three stars.  It was cute.  Austen fans will likely enjoy it.  Not something I’d reread, and as much as I love Shannon Hale, I won’t be picking up the sequel.  I’ll stick with Hale’s wonderful middle grade/YA stuff.

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