Having spent several years working in the children’s departments of various libraries, I considered myself fairly familiar with the authors of young adult fiction. I was surprised, therefore, to find Shannon Hale, famous for her adapted and created fairy tales, venturing into Jane Austen’s fiction. A giant, though not far-fetched, leap in my mind. After all, aren’t Austen’s novels ‘fairy tales’ for adults?
On opening Austenland, I found that Ms Hale had, with the style perfected through years of captivating storytelling in imaginary countries, managed to create her own perfect Austen inspired world—or at least, practically perfect in every way, if one can believe the brochure…
The Austenland novels (so far there are two) feature an old English estate that has been transformed into a Regency paradise (think Regency Houseparty on a grand, uncompromising scale). Run by the inscrutable Mrs. Wattlesbrook, it is far from being a Jane Austen theme park, as the title may imply, and those fortunate enough to be able to purchase a visit are able to fully immerse themselves in Regency life (no 21st century trappings allowed) surrounded by upper class, Georgian-style opulence and a cast of actors charged with meeting your every need and making your dreams come true (Capitalist investors, take note! Why has Austenland not *really* been created?)
The story centers on Jane Hayes, a New York City native, who finds herself not only in need of a vacation, but also the recipient of an all expenses paid trip to Austenland, as stipulated in her Great-Aunt’s will. Jane, who carries a torch for Mr. Darcy in the guise of Colin Firth, is reluctant to go, and despite her passion for Jane Austen, finds it difficult, after all, to leave all traces of modern life behind.
Sometimes, she watched Pride and Prejudice.
You know the BBC double DVD version, starring Colin First as the delicious Mr. Darcy, and that comely, busty English actress as the Elizabeth Bennet we had imagined all along. Jane watched, and rewatched the part where Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy look at each other over the piano, and there’s a zing, and her face softens, and he smiles, his chest heaving as though he’d breathe in the sight of her, and his eyes are glistening so that you’d almost think he’d cry. . .Ah!
True to it’s Pride and Prejudice theme, Jane finds herself attracted to both the handsome yet distant Mr. Nobly and the charmingly rakish gardener, Martin. Written in a humourous, self deprecating voice, the novel advances apace in an unpredictable manner so that one is not quite sure what to expect by the end. Chapters are interspersed with flashbacks to Jane’s own uninspiring romantic history in a book that does not take itself or Jane Austen seriously.
Though written in the most chick-lit of chicklittiest styles, the story is a fun departure from the many Austen inspired novels on the shelves these days; a good choice for winding down the summer in an entirely self indulgent manner.
Austenland has been adapted for film and opens on August 16, 2013 in select markets. The film stars Keri Russell as Jane, JJ Feild (of Northanger Abbey fame) as Mr. Nobly, and Jane Seymour as Mrs. Wattlesbrook.
RRP: £7.99/ Kindle: £4.79
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury Paperbacks (28 Mar 2013)
Laura Boyle is the author of Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends. She is the proprietor of Austenation: Regency Accessories, creating custom hats, bonnets, reticules and more for customers around the globe. Her greatest joy is the opportunity she has to teach her 3 children from home– an unending adventure, better than any novel.