Austenland – by Shannon Hale
I love Jane Austen. Shocking, I’m sure. I love the novels (P&P, of course, being the favourite, but also a shout out to Persuasion), I love the BBC adaptations, I love the Hollywood Pride and Prejudice and Emma, and also sometimes love derivative works like Lost in Austen, that take Austen’s world or stories and play with them. It doesn’t always work, but when it’s done right, it’s a riot! See: Clueless, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.
This was one of those rare books that I did the wrong way around – by which I mean I saw the movie before I read the book. I was hooked by this hysterical trailer, and went to the movie with a bunch of gals – a highly recommended venture. It was absolutely hilarious, and we were flailing with laughter the whole time! Naturally, I had to read the book. Will you judge me if I admit that I bought the movie tie-in edition?? Go ahead, if you must. I have no regrets. (And quite possibly, no shame.)
Like me (and many a young lady), Austenland’s titular character Jane loves Austen. The thing is, she might like Austen’s world – and her men – too much. Her decorating scheme can loosely be called “Austen-esque”. Her life-size Mr Darcy figurine gets a few too many kisses on the cheek. And her last few men have all failed to live up to the standards set by Pride and Prejudice. Finally, enough is enough, and Jane seizes the opportunity to escape to England and take part in an immersive Austen experience, complete with genteel flirting, Regency-appropriate clothing and accommodations, and even a Ball. It’s expensive, but Jane’s determined it’ll be worth it – this will be her last Austen hurrah, where she’ll finally get all this out of her system. (Unless she finds something she can’t let go of.)
The novel is a slim affair, at about 200 pages, and I dare say that in this case, seeing the movie first didn’t hurt at all. The plot was well visualised, and the characters made sense on screen and on the page. Jane was a relatable, but definitely exaggerated version of most Austen fans – taking her obsession just a bit too far.
I particularly enjoyed her struggle to decide how far she can take this pretending-to-be-in-Austen-times lark, which was perfectly natural for someone who loves the idea of living like Austen’s heroines did, but wasn’t sure how to handle being someone who paid a small fortune to make believe for a few weeks. Jane’s suitors were dashing and charming, and her fellow Austenland ladies were just hilarious.
This book is a great example of homage done right (as opposed to the very silly Austensibly Ordinary, for example). Tongue in cheek and earnest by turns, it’s perfect for a summer read, or a quick afternoon by the fire experience. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Read the book. See the movie! Enjoy alllll the Austen.