Shannon Hale: Austenland (2007)


I’m in an Jane Austen mood these days. I started Mansfield Park a week ago and really like it. Much better than most of the other Austen novels I’ve read so far, with the exception of Pride and Prejudice (I haven’t read Persuasion yet). When I came across a review of Shannon Hale’s Austenland on Anna’s blog  (Diary of an Eccentric), I knew it would be just the thing I’d enjoy right now. I wasn’t wrong. Austenland is absolutely charming. A fun, fluffy read, with which I spent a few pleasant hours.

I’m very wary when it comes to Austen fan-fiction and other than The Jane Austen Book Club, I’ve never been tempted. It’s maybe not surprising that the only other book of that type which tempted me, has also been made into a movie. Now that I read the book, I’m sure I’ll watch the movie Austenland as well.

Jane is a 30 something graphic designer from New York, who never seems to find the right man. Possibly because she is obsessed with Mr Darcy. Not the Mr Darcy from the book but the one from the BBC production starring Colin Firth.

When her rich great-aunt dies she leaves Jane a trip to an expensive English resort that caters to the Jane Austen obsessed. Here Jane will have the opportunity to live exactly as they did in Regency England. She will have to wear the proper clothes, behave and talk like a Regency woman. To make the experience authentic, they live on an estate and are surrounded by actors who behave like authentic Regency people and pretend to fall in love with them.

It seems only women book a holiday at this resort and besides Jane there are other American women. Jane hopes that after immersing herself fully in Austenland, she’ll be able to abandon her Darcy obsession and move on.

Although Jane has read all the Austen novels many times, she isn’t very familiar with Regency England and has to learn a lot. If she doesn’t behave properly or disregards the rules, she could end up being thrown out. Reading about Jane’s  many faux pas and slow progress isn’t only fun but it’s instructive as well. While I know a few things about Regency England, I don’t know enough and reading Austenland made me understand quite a few aspects in Mansfield Park much better.

Austenland is also a romance and  it’s fun for the reader to guess which man is an actor and who might be a real person and with whom Jane will end up.

I also enjoyed the way the book showed how easily the lines between reality and imagination are blurred and that re-enactment must be a powerful. experience

The end is a bit over the top but I liked it anyway.

If you love Jane Austen and want to try one of the many books inspired by her, this is an ideal choice. It’s short and entertaining.

Have you read and liked any books inspired by Jane Austen other than this and The Jane Austen Book Club? Recommendations are welcome. I wouldn’t mind reading another one some day.