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Austenland: A Novel Paperback – July 2, 2013
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"Funny, moving and a real surprise." - USA Today
"Gloriously satisfying." - Glamour
"Adorable! This is the best tribute to Austen freaks (like me) that I've ever read." - Stephenie Meyer, author of Twilight
"An homage to Austen… Austenland offers hope that after years of fruitless searching for a companion, just when you’re ready to give up on love, it will find you on its own." - Houston Chronicle
"An utterly enjoyable tribute." - Miami Herald
"Allow me to direct you to the best Austen tribute since Karen Joy Fowler's The Jane Austen Book Club: Shannon Hale's clever and imaginative Austenland... Hale's charming first book for adults is chick lit with soul. Though there's a laugh on nearly every page-Hale, like Austen, is adept at subtly skewering the ridiculous-there's also the more serious story of a woman learning the difference between fantasy and reality, and discovering that real life can be better than your dreams. Is there a better message for a summer read?" - Bookpage
About the Author
- ASIN : 1620404869
- Publisher : Bloomsbury USA; Media tie-in edition (July 2, 2013)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 208 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9781620404867
- ISBN-13 : 978-1620404867
- Lexile measure : 830L
- Item Weight : 7.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.69 x 0.56 x 8.21 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,732,875 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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That confession out of the way, there was actually enough difference between the book and the movie to keep me engaged throughout the reading.
I actually wish that they had done the start of the movie more like that start of the book, Jane not being a Colin Firth obsessed modern-day spinster. Also having her rediscovering her joy in painting while on vacation and deciding to change for herself and not for any of the guys was much more interesting.
Long story short, even if you've seen the movie the book is worth a read, and the humor still shine through.
The story is about a woman (also) named Jane who is what we can only call a bumbler when it comes to relationships. She is bequeathed a three-week visit to Pembrook Park, the "Austenland" of the novel. It's a place where wealthy women of disparate ages go to immerse themselves in the Austen era, wearing period clothes, doing period activities, and interacting with a local "cast" of actors who serve them and even woo them as part of the "experience." The women all pretend to be in their twenties and single so as to be seen as marriageable (in terms of period norms).
It's an interesting premise which works with mixed success.
As a male reader, I wasn't really interested in all the clothing details, although to be fair that aspect wasn't terribly overplayed. Nor was I especially taken in by Jane's various heart-flutters and reactions to the presence of attractive males. Like I said, I'm not in the target audience.
Austenland customers are exclusively female. There is nothing there for a male customer, and indeed, male customers would spoil the scripted experience that is provided for the wealthy paying females. But is there nothing in the novel for the male reader?
Actually, there's a lot, if you're willing to look for it and set publisher's demographics aside. Author Shannon Hale manages to touch on some important observations about the human condition. Jane Austen did the same, and that made her books timeless and universal. I won't say Ms. Hale reaches Ms. Austen's level. But she does quite well.
The plot is relatively lightweight, at least from where I sit. Jane goes back and forth, hope swells, hope is crushed, hope swells again; that much is typical romance fare. What does work is Jane as an evolving character, Jane's development in the way she views herself, her progress toward self-understanding and ultimately, what I can only call redemption.
The writing is excellent, and I am delighted that the author didn't attempt a faux-Austen writing style. Modern prose suits this novel well and doesn't at all interfere with the period concepts.
My summary is this. The "Austenland" concept itself is rather mixed and doesn't work completely. The plot is, well, not much. But the writing is good and the lead character is superb. What we learn about ourselves as character Jane learns about herself is what makes this book one to read. Even for age 60+ males.
So take that, publisher!
Jane is a thirty-something New Yorker who has never been able to find a man who measured up to her idea of Mr. Darcy, as portrayed by Colin Firth in the BBC version of "Pride and Prejudice." In the book, an older relative discovers her secret passion and as part of her will bequeaths Jane an all-expenses-paid trip to the Austenland resort, a place called Pembrook Park. There with other female guests she is to be entertained by actors playing Regency characters, and have the chance to live out her fantasy of what life might have been like in early nineteenth century England.
Upon arrival at Pembrook Park, Jane is fitted up with a corset and empire waist gowns, and is asked to relinquish all modern devices for the duration of her stay. Jane manages to sneak in her cell phone but is otherwise on her own, given the name of Miss Jane Erstwhile, and asked to play the part of a less fortunate relative visiting her loving aunt Saffronia.
Although the men playing the Regency characters are handsome and interesting to interact with, Jane soon begins longing for something real. She understands that the gentlemen are actors who are actually paid to enjoy her company, which takes a lot of the fun out of it. Even though she has much witty banter with one Mr. Nobley, it's the attraction of someone who is truly himself which leads Jane into a clandestine relationship with Martin, Pembrook Park's gardener. When he breaks things off, Jane decides it's time to take charge of her own story and enjoy the rest of her time for what it is.
While sparks continue flying between Jane and Mr. Nobley, she can't be sure it's not because he's just a good actor. The characters go on to do very Austen-esque things, including putting on a theatrical and later dancing the night away at a ball on their final night. Before Jane goes home there is one final twist to shake up her perception of what is true and what is part of Austenland's manipulation of reality. Completely disillusioned, is there anything the man who has come to truly love her can do to convince her that he isn't playacting anymore?
In the end I have to say that, between the book and the movie, surprisingly I slightly preferred the movie version. The book did exactly what I hoped in fleshing out the characters and helping me understand them better, but the author had a somewhat scattered, forced writing style which remained unconvincing. If you really like the movie I'd say the book is worth looking into, while I'd recommend the movie for all Austen fans, especially ones who know how to enjoy life without taking themselves too seriously.
Top reviews from other countries
"Austenland" the film is somewhat enjoyable, and occasionally funny. The book, while being different from the film (not so funny, I thought), still provided light entertainment (alas, there was no Jennifer Coolidge). The whole Jane Austen and Mr Darcy obsession of the main character felt completely believable to me, yet the flimsiness and silliness of heroine when it came to men in her life spoiled the book for me. Same with the romance - there was really no believable chemistry between the leads, but a lot of sentimental gibberish sprinkled with weak attempts at regency. I think the idea of "Austenland" retreat sound good when thought of and discussed, but was not executed to its full potential. The whole actors playing falling in love with rich ladies who pay money to wear Nineteenth century dresses felt somewhat surreal to me...
It is not a classic, it's not Jane Austen, it's not an attempt at a regency novel, but a typical chicklit book sprinkled with regency drama, a very light entertainment. Do not expect a vivid historic drama or a heart-breaking love story. That said, it's only 208 pages long and the cover is exquisitely designed. I would not mind checking out the second book of the series.
It's all very proper, but also quite fake, and mildly comic. A good deal of the fun and confusion comes from not knowing when characters are acting and when they are sincere, and from the reality of the present day continuously showing through the Regency veneer. But it's an escapist romance within an escapist romance, so the ultimate payoff of the book isn't too hard to imagine. It's frothy and light, and good fun without being at all taxing. I'm not sure I'd want to read any more of the series (yes, there are sequels), but as a standalone novel, it was good fun.
I listened to the American audiobook version , which comes on 5 CDs in cardboard packaging. It's read by Katherine Kellgren, who is a New Yorker but who studied at RADA, and who manages to switch between American and British accents without any apparent trouble (although Martin's Bristol/Sheffield working class accent is more than a bit of a pastiche). It's a spirited reading, giving about 6 and a half hours of listening - more than enough to keep you amused on a trip from London to Edinburgh.
You will have to know a bit about Austen and her books to get all of the references that are continually thrown out (Although if you’re not an Austen fan why would you be reading this?).
Certainly worth a read though.