A quick rundown… Jane enters a world she never knew existed – the opportunity to live like an Austen heroine and by wooed by her own Mr Darcy. Is real life ever as good as your dreams?
Strengths: The premise of an ‘Austenland’ is something every Austen fan has wondered about.
Weaknesses: It’s a little restrained in parts and reality can be quite depressing.
Why I read it: Love Austen and sent to me by Bloomsbury Sydney – thank you! (I also own an ebook version).
Setting: New York and England
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
I’m sure every Austen fan has entertained the thought of a place where they could dress up in Regency clothing and elegantly stroll around manicured gardens with that special Mr Darcy. While I don’t know of any real place you can do that, you can live the fantasy through Jane in Austenland, who does exactly that. (Except for the Regency House television series, which probably isn’t in production anymore).
Jane is in her thirties and single. A good night consists of watching Colin Firth taking a dip in the Pride and Prejudice miniseries. She knows she’s sad and that she can’t keep comparing real men to Mr Darcy, but how can she break the mould? When she is bequeathed a trip to Pembrook Park, a fantasy Austen-world in England, by an elderly aunt, Jane firmly states this will be the last chance for a Mr Darcy. Unfortunately, Regency world is full of rules, manners and restriction for women – to the point Jane finds it – gasp – boring. The male actors seem to have other women in their sights – is Jane left alone in this world too?
I thought it was courageous of Hale to describe the Regency world as boring, even though I think it would be quite true for modern women (no internet, phone or opinion allowed)! The narrative also shows just how difficult it is to immerse yourself in another time, no matter how much you might want to. It kind of nailed my suspicious that I’m really not an Austen heroine.
Jane is an interesting character –she has quite a few issues that she doesn’t seem to know how to deal with (being single and getting older mainly). However, she doesn’t always help herself – breaking rules at Pembrook Park and deliberately alienating herself. The climax is interesting, yet predictable – it has all the features of a chick flick but made me wonder what was so appealing about Jane? Is there something I missed? Was it that Jane wasn’t enough like me that I couldn’t fully absorb the fantasy? The book seemed rather understated until the end, when the passion just overflowed. I guess that’s kind of like an Austen book.
Austenland is also being released as a film later this year. It will be interesting to see how it’s done – I think it could work very well.