Austenland by Shannon Hale

Genre: Chick lit
Main characters: Jane Hayes/Erstwhile
Time and place: about 2007 I would guess; most of the action takes place in Pembrook Park, Kent, England
First sentence: It is a truth universally acknowledged that a thirty-something woman in possession of a satisfying career and fabulous hairdo must be in want of very little, and Jane Hayes, pretty enough and clever enough, was certainly thought to have little to distress her.

Summary: Jane Hayes is a young woman with a career in graphic design and a disastrous love life. The latter is, in no small part, caused by her obsession with the books and times of Jane Austen and, most of all, with Mr. Darcy. When her great-aunt Carolyn finds out about Jane’s problem, she sends her to a sort of Austen camp: an estate in England where everyone acts like the year is 1816 and actors are paid to help the guests having an experience as immersive as possible, including gentlemen suitors set on declaring their unending and irrepressible love (as in all Austen novels). Eventually, Jane decides to go, in hopes that the experience will help her set her illusions aside forever. And yet once there she discovers that keeping track of what is real and what is not it’s a bit harder than she has previously thought.

I liked the way Jane grows and develops throughout the book. She is aware that her intensity and her expectations are a roadblock in her path to happiness, and all the time while at Pembrook she is doing her best to play along and, at the same time, reinvent herself. Day by day she discovers that, after all, she could very well enjoy the trip as well as the destination, and that a relationship can be savoured even if a wedding does not appear on the horizon. Oh, and there’s nothing wrong with a bit of harmless flirting now and then. Jane does change after her stint in Austenland show spoiler

The writing style is casual and enjoyable, sprinkled with funny bits that made me smile (such as “She thought she should say something witty here. She said, “Really?” “), and some pretty intense moments too (“[He] smiled in his way, the way that made her stare back and wish she could breathe.“). I couldn’t help but very much admire the diligence of the author when she created the characters’ Pembrook lines, because a good chunk of the book is written in Austen-like style, and, at least for a profane like me, it sounded quite close to the original.

Speaking of which, another thing that mightily amused me throughout the book was imagining what I myself would have done in such a setting, being forced to talk in such a style. Each time I ended up being very much impressed with the way the author has chosen to have Jane and the rest of the cast go back and forth between conversational tones: everyone is doing their best to act as 1816 as possible in order not to ruin the Experience for everyone else, and yet their true upbringing and habits do slip through the pretense now and then (making it all the more real because I really wouldn’t have believed a complete change from one way of talking to another can be achieved on such a short notice).

What I liked most: The fact that the ending is not obvious until the last few pages. Or at least it wasn’t for me. Oh, and the whole idea of an Austen-esque estate making guests feel like they went back in time is pretty cool too.

What I liked least: Chick lit, easy reading, nothing to take seriously…what’s there not to like? :)

Recommend it to? Since it’s a chick lit book I obviously recommend it to chick lit fans. Nevertheless I do encourage anyone (especially if they have a penchant for Mr. Darcy) to at least see what it’s about. It’s not perfect but if you’re in the mood for something light it might be just the thing :)

Companion novel:
Midnight in Austenland

Written by the same author:
The Book of a Thousand Days

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6 thoughts on “Austenland by Shannon Hale

    • I love them too, I have quite a few on my TBR list :)

      Care to tell me some of your favorite titles? (I’m always on the lookout for some more good ones hee hee)

    • It is a gimmick indeed. But I thought of it as an original form of sending a heroine back in time without involving time travel and as such I found it quite cool :)

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