Thursday, November 27, 2008

Austenland by Shannon Hale

Plot Summary: Jane is a young New York woman who can never seem to find the right man—perhaps because of her secret obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. When a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-obsessed women, however, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become more real than she ever could have imagined. Is this total immersion in a fake Austenland enough to make Jane kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?

Shannon Hale is also the author of THE PRINCESS ACADEMY, a Newbery Honor, which I loved. It was fun with great characters, and kept me absorbed from page one.

So when I heard about Austenland, I got really excited. I’m a huge Austen fan, especially PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, so I opened these pages with anticipation.

First off, let me say this is an adult novel, though I can see teen crossover appeal. But it definitely has the flavor and forgiveness of an adult novel. I acknowledged this and adjusted, ready and wanting to love this book.

I didn’t. And I’m sad over it.

This book didn’t have Ms. Hale’s usual stellar writing and well developed characters. I guess you could consider this a light, fun read. But it’s also contrived, shallow, and predictable. Anyone who’s familiar with PRIDE AND PREJUDICE will know what’s coming well before it gets there.

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.

This was such a fresh, fun idea that I eagerly wanted to get lost in. But so many things just didn’t ring true. Like the banning of electronic devices (like cell phones) when most of the kerosene lamps were electric, plumbing used instead of chamber pots, and 20th century makeup instead of 19th. And smuggling said electronics can result in being kicked out? Seems a bit much. I mean, who cares what a paying customer has in her room with the doors closed?

But no, Jane is nearly thrown out for smuggling in her cell phone, and she does nothing to stop it. That I just didn’t buy, especially since Jane has some serious leverage over the establishment: a drunken actor was a bit too forceful in his proposition for sex. In fact, this bit of info is completely forgotten. I expected it to come up again at least at the end, when Jane finally comes into her own and gives the proprietress a reaming. But she doesn’t. So what was the point of the inappropriate proposition for sex?

There were other inconsistencies, but all of these I could have forgiven. But I couldn’t forgive the characters. They were all flat and predictable, even Jane. It was obvious what role Mr. Nobley was playing. It was even obvious what role Martin-the-gardener was playing. I was expecting a refreshing twist to turn the story on its side, but didn’t one. Ms. Hale, I’m sorry to say it, but I know you’re capable of better. I’ve read it in your other work.

Anyway, if you like PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and want to read the same story in a modern setting, then you might like this. Otherwise, I’d stick to the classic.


Anonymous said...

I will probably miss that one! If you haven't read "Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict" - you really ought to - it is fabulous! I very much enjoyed it - and I am one of the biggest Jane Austen addicts I know!

Carrie Harris said...

Yeah, I still haven't found a good alternate Austen that I liked. Have you?

Tabitha said...

Julia - I've seen that book around, but now I will have to pick it up. Thanks!! And thanks for stopping by!! :)

GWG - I totally agree, and find it sad. I wonder how that's going to change in this economy... Hope you have a great holiday weekend too!!

Carrie - no, not yet. Though Julia suggested Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict, so I'll give that one a try. But Jane herself seems to be a one of a kind, doesn't she? :)

PJ Hoover said...

Is it shelved under adult books?
Great review, BTW!

C.R. Evers said...

Great review. I love Shanon Hale. I've been wanting to read Austenland. I may still someday, but I won't put it at the top of my list. Thanks for the heads up!

Marcia said...

I love Jane Austen too, especially Pride and Prejudice. Ha, we are not surprised, are we? :)

I've also enjoyed everything by Shannon Hale that I've read. I've NOT read this one. Do you suppose -- she was writing what she perceived to be audience-friendly for an adult audience, and that with YA she does the same? IMO, MG and YA have it all over adult books in quality. I tried to read an adult book last week. It was so much telling I had to quit, and to my mind most adult novels have so-so writing. Is she saving the best for where it's "demanded"?

Tabitha said...

PJ - yeah, it is. And it definitely has the flavor of an adult book.

Christy - anytime!! I think part of my problem was my expectation was too high, having read her other work.

Marcia - no, we are not surprised! :) And I completely agree about the quality in adult novels. I just finished Sunshine by Robin Mckinley, an author I really like, and it went on SO long with the telling and info-dumping. I suppose Shannon Hale could have tried to adjust her style to what she thought the adult audience wants to see, but I really wish she hadn't. She's so much better than that. Ya know? :)