Honestly, I’ve been debating back and forth for a couple of days about whether or not to write this post as I’m not sure I’ll be doing book reviews on a regular basis. Ultimately I decided if I feel enough of my readers would want to know, then I would write the review. So, I give you…
“Austenland” by Shannon Hale.
Jane, a modern-day New Yorker, is sent on a 3 week vacation to an oddly secretive resort called Pembrooke Park when her elderly aunt realizes she has an unhealthy obsession with Mr. Darcey (as played by Colin Firth in the BBC miniseries). That is all I will tell you of the plot so as not to spoil, but honestly that’s all you really need to know.
I was unsure of this book when Goodreads recommended it to me. I was trepidatious when the reviews made it sound like fan fiction. (After all, we now live in a society where bad fan fiction is mistaken for good books.) I was hopeful when the author appeared to be reputable. So I checked it out of the library, and ended up somewhere in between. The book is short, coming in at less than 200 pages, and it was the quick read I expected it to be. However, not everything was as I had hoped.
It took roughly 60 pages to begin enjoying the Pembrooke experience Hale sets forth to her readers. Part of this is due to the one-dimensional aspect of the characters up until that point. The other part is because I got the distinct feeling that Hale was ever-so-slightly mocking me for my love of Mr. Darcey. Hale seemed to go out of her way to make the Darceyesque character portray the most irritating, most obnoxious, and most elitist traits of Austen’s Darcey for as long as she felt she could get away with that course of action. Ignoring the vapidness and grating nature of many side characters, this alone was enough to make me consider abandoning Jane only 1/3 through her story.
Hale must have sensed the onset of Austen-fan pitchforks, because seemingly within a page-turn the book became charming. I felt a depth and likability to Jane’s character that had been lacking before. I felt her discomfort at not always saying or doing the right thing within the confines of Regency etiquette. Mr. Noble started to exude some of the qualities I love about Mr. Darcey. Even the secondary characters were given antics or brought into the main story in such a way that made them endearing (or justifiably disliked). By the time the book came to a satisfying (if slightly predictable) ending, I was glad for the time I had spent in Pembrooke.
Would I read this book again, no. It was, however, an enjoyable reprieve from reality. I can, in good conscience, recommend this book as a fun vacation/holiday read. (I can also admit that I’ve mentally earmarked its sequel for my next long plane ride.)