Shannon Hale, Austenland

Posted June 11, 2012 by Kathy Davie in

AustenlandAustenland by Shannon Hale
Series: Austenland, 1
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First in the Austenland psychological exploration of romance via Jane Austen.

My Take
As I began reading, I felt a bit ho-hum. Sure, it was a fun fantasy to think about going back to a “gentler” time when manners were important and one could play at being a lady. And Hale set us up for the shame that Jane feels in her role as a player, but the trip and her own inner searching provides a sweet revelation. And only goes to prove that if you give up your search, the object you desire will appear.

I wouldn’t have lasted. Too many rules and those rules which pushed Jane down the line of precedence would have irked me too far. What kind of vacation is it that dumps on you like that? I didn’t see the point of changing Jane’s name or her age. I felt this contributed to Jane’s feeling as though she were playing; if she had kept her name but under the strictures of 1816, I think the experience would have meant more. And if Mrs. Wattlesbrooke’s rules were so strict, I don’t understand how Miss Charming got away with her stupid “tally-hos” and “what, whats”.

Although, to be fair, Austenland does provide for a full immersion from clothing to makeup, food to the company and a strict adherence to the etiquette and language of the time. I suspect I’d’ve gotten a headache trying to keep my language straight (and clean!).

There’s a point in the story when Jane realizes that she’s wasting Great-Aunt Carolyn’s gift and Jane finally begins to consider the Austen heroine and not just her men.

It’s an interesting mix of disdain and consideration. The paints with which Jane was gifted provide her with another type of vacation, a revisit to a time in her life when she was freer, wilder, fearless. Yet, because Jane’s financial background isn’t likely to see her return for another visit, the players don’t put as much effort into her vacation as they do the others.

In some ways, Pembrook Park seemed more of a whorehouse which ladies visit.

I enjoyed the story. In spite of the gaps. Hale had fun with her fantasy of Austenland and I appreciated how she had Jane analyzing herself throughout with comparisons to her beloved Jane Austen, her characters, and her world. I’ve already mentioned what I saw as drawbacks to the “land”, what I haven’t noted was the vagueness of the romances that rose up. One felt very real while another was too confusing. There weren’t any indications that Nobley was not playing his role and his sudden leap at the end, while sweet, was somewhat out of the blue. Oh, I knew Hale was tending that way, but she never developed it. I think this was a missed opportunity for a better bit of drama and tension. What I don’t understand at all is Martin at the end. His about face at the ball was so real and then Hale’s final twist. Nope, I just don’t get it. I don’t see the point of it. Unless Hale was simply looking for an easy way to create a bit more tension. If so, shame on you, work at it next time. Your story didn’t deserve this slacking off. I did enjoy Jane’s parting shot to Mrs. Wattlesbrook…the old cow!

Ah well…

The Story
Jane’s mother Shirley brought Great-Aunt Carolyn along one day to lunch and it’s the sight of the not-so-well-hidden Pride and Prejudice DVD that encourages Carolyn to ensure Jane’s immersion.

Three weeks completely immersed in Austenland, a.k.a., Pembrook Park in Kent, England. And it starts before one steps foot on the property.

The Characters
Jane Hayes, a.k.a., Miss Jane Erstwhile, is a Jane Austen-romantic. Totally caught up in the world of Mr. Darcy and no one in her own time period can ever measure up.

Mrs. Wattlesbrook is the mistress of the immersion. The arbiter of who stays and who goes. The characters who make up the household include Aunt Saffronia and Uncle Sir Templeton; Colonel Andrews is chatty and does his best to make each guest feel wanted; Mr. Nobley who is quite snobby; and, Martin is one of the gardeners with a secret passion for root beer and American basketball; Captain George East plays a naval captain and a jilted lover of Miss Heartwright’s; and, Mrs. Heartwright plays chaperone since Miss Heartwright insists upon staying in a small cottage on the grounds.

Miss Lizzy Charming is one of the guests—an old broad pretending to be a sweet, young thing. Nothing like reinforcing the faux nature of the event. Miss Amelia Heartwright is one of the recurring guests. A woman Jane just wants to hate…she has the language and the manners down. She’s just too damn perfect.

The Cover
The cover is perfect as Jane stands at the start of a gravel path, suitcase in hand, before the glorious Pembrook Park.

This is what it’s all about, Austenland, where the fanciers of Jane Austen and the world she created can immerse themselves in the Prince Regent’s England.

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