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Review: Austenland

When I took out Austenland by Shannon Hale, I was thinking light and fun, a good way to start my Austen in August journey. What I was not thinking was a book I nearly out down because of offense or a philosophical debate in my head.

As I mentioned in Saturday’s Library Loot post, Austenland by Shannon Hale is the fictional tale of Jane Hayes, someone who is Mr Darcy obsessed, and she has been found out by her great Aunt Carolyn. Carolyn bequeths an unusal gift at her passing: a trip to Pembrooke Park to live in the Regency Era written about by Jane Austen.

What’s interesting is that Jane sees Pembrooke Park as the antidote to her Austen obsession. Every man she’s dated is held up the Mr. Darcy standard, and now she has the chance to find her Mr. Darcy. But instead of things become clearer, they become muddier as she struggles to differentiate her Austen fantasies from her reality, and she doesn’t know who is an actor, and who is not.

What really frustrated me about this short novel is that I don’t think Hale does a good job of resolving the issues that she raises. I feel like she dances on the line between judging her character and others because they indulge in this Austen fantasy, and endorsing it. Is it really okay to have your reality so influenced by fiction that you hold every real man you meet to the standards of the fictional Darcy? Is it okay to cheat on a spouse by indulging yearly in a Regency Era romance because they’ve settled for something less than love? Is that what love is…one of the romances out a Jane Austen novel?

Honestly, my perspective is no, none of those things are okay. Jane Hayes herself seems disgusted by the length at which she, and the others at this resort experience have gone to indulge in this fantasy, and yet…well, prepare for the spoiler here… she ends up with her OWN Mr. Darcy. Seriously?! Hale, make up your mind!

I love Jane Austen’s work in both the characters she has created and in the genius of her writing, and I expected this book to be a fun hat tip to that work. Instead, it was an uncomfortable reminder of how some blur the lines between fantasy and reality, and about how complicated it makes life. I give this book one star. And for the remainder of the month, I’ll be sticking to Austen’s actual works. Not some spin off fiction.

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2 thoughts on “Review: Austenland

  1. karen on said:

    Well-stated. These male characters….Mr. Darcy, Edward Cullen, Christian Grey, etc….were all created in the imaginations of women. Naturally, female readers are captivated by them. Hence, wives are ditching husbands (real men) for a fake–and ridiculous–standard.

  2. Thanks for your comments Karen. I think one of the things I am finding as I read an incredible amount of fiction is how easily it is to get sucked in to the alternate realities of fiction. I realize, this makes me sound crazy, but I’ve seen evidence of it in others as well. Whether we want it to be the case or not, we are influenced by what we read.
    In the case of Austenland, Jane was so fully influenced by what she read that she looked for Mr. Darcy in every man she met. Women and men do it each time they expect a husband or wife or girlfriend or boyfriend to be the ideal they’ve created in their mind, whether that comes from Jane Austen, Stephanie Meyers, or the swimsuit edition of Sport’s Illustrated.

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