Tuesday 9 April 2013

Book review : Austenland - Shannon Hale

*** Don't miss my giveaway where you can win both Austenland books ! ***

I have very eclectic tastes when it comes to reading. I love crime fiction but also frequently turn to chick lit for a bit of feel-good escapism. Nevertheless, when I plucked Shannon Hale's Austenland off my bookshelf, I did have a few reservations. The book centres around a fake-Regency manor house in the English countryside where women can go to live out their Jane Austen fantasies for a few weeks. They are surrounded by actors who are employed to offer them some harmless love interest guaranteed to make them swoon like a true Austen heroine - unless it's the authentic tight corsets making them breathless rather than their beaus ! While I have nothing against people taking part in historical fantasy roleplay, I did wonder if I'd manage to relate to the kind of women who would take part in such a holiday because it's really not my kind of thing.

I was relieved to see that Jane, the central character in the novel, shared my apprehension. A young New Yorker with an abysmal track record with men and a secret infatuation with Mr Darcy, she is bequeathed a trip to Austenland in her great aunt's will. After a bit of eye-rolling and soul-searching, she decides to go along with the charade and hopefully get her Austen obsession out of her system once and for all.

Jane has a hard time adopting her attributed role as Miss Erstwhile, casting a slightly cynical eye over the whole shenanigans and portraying life at the manor house with a sense of bemusement and amusement that frequently made me smile. I absolutely love the character of Miss Charming, a totally endearing, larger-than-life middle-aged woman who is willing to really immerse herself in the fantasy and go all out to get her Regency man ! Her endless use of pseudo-English interjections such as "what what", "Tally-ho" and "toodlepip" could become annoying but Miss Charming's personality is vibrant enough to get away with it. The book is written by an American author and most of the guests at Austenland are Americans, which probably explains why this rather stereotypical vision of olde-worlde England comes to the fore. It's all very tongue-in-cheek though.

You can tell that the author has really done her homework. There is a list of suggested reading at the end of the book, as well as some questions for reading groups, that really help you to think about the novel and the way it is written. I was very impressed at her witty Austen-style opening paragraph. Austenland begins : "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a thirtysomething woman in possession of a satisfying career and a good hairdo must be in want of very little, and Jane Hayes, pretty enough and clever enough, was certainly thought to have little to distress her". Compare with the first sentence of Pride and Prejudice : "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." I love the way it's brought Jane Austen's style right up to date, putting a female in the lead and injecting a good dose of humour.

Austenland is a charming read that will delight fans of chick-lit, whether or not they have their own secret Austen-obsession. As well as the usual romantic "will they, won't they?" tension, in Austenland the reader (as well as the characters in the novel) also has to wonder if, should any romance arise, it is real or pure make-believe.

It's a short read, about 200 pages long, so I raced through it and immediately started reading the second instalment, Midnight in Austenland, which I'll tell you about as soon as I've finished it.

You might like to know that Austenland has also been made into a film so keep an eye on the big screens. 

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £7.99

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Paperbacks (28 Mar 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140884009X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408840092
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 1.6 cm

Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.

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  1. i love jane austen so this book sounds like my cup of tea :)

  2. Don't know if I'd be up to spending a week in the Regency surroundings. But give me a Renaissance manor house, and I'd play the part. :)
    It reminded me of the TV film "Lost in Austen" a few years ago, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Have you watched it?

    1. No, I haven't seen that one. My review of the second book is coming right up, then there will be a giveaway to win both books, if you fancy trying your luck :)

  3. I am going to add this to my goodreads- must read list....


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