Friday, February 3, 2012

Book Review - Shannon Hale's Austenland

Austenland by Shannon Hale
Published by: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: May 29th, 2007
Format: Hardcover, 208 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Jane Hayes has boy problems. She's had a string of boyfriends and as each one has successively let her down she's lost herself more and more to the world of Jane Austen. Mr. Darcy is her dark dirty secret, hiding him away in her apartment where no one will look. But then her astute Great Aunt notices the DVD set amongst the dying foliage of her house plants and confronts her niece. Jane needs to grasp tightly to reality and leave the dream men behind. Don't let it wait till it's too late. When her Great Aunt dies she leaves Jane a legacy. An all expense paid trip to Austenland, the premiere holiday destination for Janites with cash to spare, as in enough to pay for a new car and a month in Italy. Jane feels silly dressing up in Regency garb and pretending to be "Miss Jane Erstwhile." The men are gorgeous, the house is wonderful, but it makes her secret not so secret. All these actors paid to fulfil her fantasies are now aware of her "issues."

At first she decides to eschew the world Austenland has opened to her and seeks comfort with Martin, who happens to be a gardener on the estate. She soon realizes that while making out with Martin is nice, there's no way he can help her get over her Darcy dreams. This is the best place in the world to do immersion therapy to get over Darcy once and for all. Jane throws herself into the world and soon has feelings for the Darcyesque Mr. Nobley. Are her feelings real, are his feelings real, or is he being paid to help her get over her addiction? If she can say no to Mr. Nobley then she'll get over Darcy.

I remember back in 2007 how excited I was for this book. Shannon Hale's first foray into adult literature. I also remember the glee (there was squealing) when Barnes & Noble put it out the Friday before it was supposed to be released so I got to read it over the holiday weekend. I didn't exactly like it, in fact, hate might be more the right phrase... here's what I wrote at the time: "Supposedly humorous book on Jane Austen addiction, but the author obviously has a disdain for those obsessed with Austen and views it as a problem to be hidden away, like the leads hiding of her double dvd set. Not very funny and to a true Janeite somewhat insulting. Plus the naming of the male actors is dumb, really the Darcy/Knightly Character is really called Nobley? I mean could it be stupider? The whole book is kind of degrading." As you might have guessed, time changes many things, including how I feel about this book.

So why has my opinion on this book changed so drastically? It's still the same book. It's not like it magically became something else like a caterpillar to a butterfly. In fact, many of the issues I had on my first reading are still present. What I think it comes down to is I knew what the book was and didn't have any expectations so I was actually able to enjoy the ride. The characters names are so absurd it's like they're named to be bad puns in a Restoration Comedy. The shame she feels for loving Austen insults me. The fact that the people at Austenland are like hookers who can't go all the way is mildly disturbing. If you just remember that this is a very broad over the top comedy I think it's more enjoyable than if you view it in any kind of serious light. I think over the years I've realized to not take things so seriously and also be able to embrace characters that I don't really like (hello Shopaholic's Becky Bloomwood) and that made me able to enjoy this book the second time around.

Also learning it's going to be a movie with J.J. Feild didn't hurt either. At least Jane Hayes reaches the correct frame of mind and embraces Austen as she is, the opiate of women, not a dirty secret to be hidden away, but to be proudly placed on your shelf next to Arrested Development Season 1.


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