Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States on May 9, 2013
All I had to do was to read the back cover and I knew that I, as an age 60+ male, was very much not in the target audience for this book. But (1) having heard good things about the movie and (2) having been a Jane Austen fan for nearly 50 years, I was going to read this book regardless of publisher demographics.

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!
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