Archive Review – “Austenland” by Shannon Hale

Review first published 15/02/12


Jane Hayes is a young woman with a problem.  Her problem is that she has a fixation on Colin Firth’s interpretation of the character of Fitzwilliam Darcy and she has used Mr Darcy as a yardstick at which her previous failed relationships have been measured.

Following a death of a relative, Jane is given the opportunity to spend three weeks in Pembrook Park, a place where she can fantasise over men who display Regency-era manners whilst having to contend with no technology, Empire dresses and the appropriate etiquette… But will she find her own Mr Darcy or will this vacation cure her of her obsession?

Firstly, apologies for delivering this review a little late.  I had hoped that it would be on the blog yesterday, but I hadn’t quite finished the book.

I bought this book on the back of watching a British television series called “Lost In Austen” where a 21st century woman ends up in the fictional world of Pride and Prejuidice whilst Elizabeth Bennet decides to give the 21st century a try.

Although I found this a pleasant enough book to read, it wasn’t really my cup of tea and I can’t really put my finger on why.

The character of Jane is written very much as the heroine of the romantic comedies that seem to do the rounds at the cinemas.  She’s unhappy with the way that her love life is heading and her aspiration is that the men were more like Darcy, or should I say Colin Firth’s version of Darcy, whom she sees as the perfect version of manhood in her eyes.

The characters that surround Jane, apart from the start of the novel before she goes on her vacation and regular interludes at the start of each chapter where the reader is treated to stories of previous romantic failures, are a company of composite characters based on romantic literature such as those written by Jane Austen.  You get the protective “Aunt Saffronia” and her drunk husband, “Sir John”; the moody and handsome landowner, “Mr Nobley”; the tragic sea hero, “Captain Hart” and the rakish cad, “Colonel Andrews”.

The characters are very much what-you-see-is-what-you-get on the surface and you rely on Jane’s point of view to fill out the blanks, but there is an underlying mystery involving some of the characters which  I wish had been delved into and threaded through the plot more regularly to give the eventual conclusion of the book a little more substance.  (I don’t want to give any spoilers out to anyone who hasn’t read this book).

I also wished, although this is a theme park knowingly set in 21st century England, that Shannon Hale used more of the culture clash aspects to put some more humour within the novel.

It isn’t a book that I would normally have read, except for the fact that I loved “Lost In Austen” (cover of DVD below) and the points I raised in this review could be seen as “taste and fancy”.

Rating: 3/5

“Lost In Austen” cover – US version


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