Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Austenland by Shannon Hale

Now, I don’t usually read straight-up romances. There usually has to be something else going on. Usually. This book is an exception, and I think only because of the setting and the comedy. This was the third or fourth time I’ve read this book, and I think it’s time I just buy it. The last time I read it was three or four years ago, and I have to admit, the way I read it was different this time, but it was still one I enjoyed. Here’s the cover description:

Jane Hayes is a seemingly normal young New Yorker, but she has a secret. Her obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, is ruining her life. No real man can compare.

When a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become realer than she ever could have imagined. Decked out in empire-waist gowns, stripped of her modern appliances, Jane throws herself into mastering Regency etiquette and flirts with gardeners and gentlemen – or maybe even, she suspects, with the actors who are playing them.

It’s all a game, Jane knows. And yet the longer she stays, the more her insecurities seem to vanish. Is she about to kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?

Before I launch into this review, I have a request. Please, please do not judge this book by its movie. Simply watching a two-minute trailer, I saw so many drastic changes from the book, completely altering the spirit of the story and the main character, that I got rather upset, and decided not to watch it.

The best thing about this book is how downright, laugh-out-loud funny it is. The first time I read it, I thought it was just wonderful. So original, and romantic, and funny, and a main character I could identify with. Some of my opinions have changed, but I stand by funny. It is not a drama – it is a straight-up romantic comedy. You cannot go into this book taking it seriously, because it is not meant to be taken seriously. Shannon Hale writes in such a snarky, chatty tone, that I chuckle all throughout.

I do think now though, that the romance side of things was pretty cliché. I’ve read more Austen and Bronte than I had before, and I understand that it makes sense to have an Austen-style romance in a book like this, but…well, I prefer something a little more original. The climax was so. very. dramatic. that it was just plain unrealistic, and borderline laughable. But again, since the whole book is a comedy, it doesn't really bother me much.

The characters are diverse and well differentiated. Jane can be a tiny bit obnoxious at times…well, may be more than a tiny bit, but the point of the story is her personal growth out of an adolescent obsession. And the fact that she knows she’s ridiculous helps a lot.

The task of sorting out fantasy from reality is difficult, but I think that’s the point. Fantasy, over-indulged, is dangerous. As Jane herself says, “Fantasy is not practice for what is real – fantasy is the opiate of women.” And the modern-day imitation of a Regency setting was an interesting twist, and very well executed. A few of the evening conversations in the drawing room reminded me of some of my favorite scenes from Jane Eyre. The Austen-style settings are what initially drew me in.

As far as adult content, there’s no cursing, but there is some physical romance – nothing at all graphic though. And there tend to be some subtle innuendoes, that really are more funny than offensive.

Even though my opinion altered some, I still enjoyed it, and intend to buy it. It is simple, sweet, comical, and very fun. I went straight from this book to its sequel Midnight in Austenland which I had never read before, (review to come) and I have to say, Midnight was much better, and it is worth it to read this book, just to get to that one.

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