Tuesday, September 3, 2013


Hi, my name is Sara, and I love Jane Austen. 

I realize it's a total cliché for me to admit that, but I do.  Many, many women love Jane Austen.  Not all women, but enough to make the many editions of her books and the gazillion movie versions of her stories a multi-million (billion?) dollar business.  There are many reasons women love Austen.  For me, honestly, it's the writing.  Anyone who can take 29 words to say something that could have been said in 5 is just plain awesome in my book.  Also, the setting is captivating - 19th century England, in a time and place and station in life during which a women's main job was to look pretty and get herself married.  Austen lovers like myself imagine themselves in empire dresses, hair piled high upon their heads, corsets tightly hiding  any flaws in their figure, sitting around reading or doing embroidery or playing the pianoforte (never just the piano, mind you, the pianoforte), waiting for the suitors to call.  For women in 21st century America, with it's high-paced life and sweatpants, there is sometime terribly appealing about this setting.

And then, of course, there are the men of Austen, and no other character quite embodies the wonder of Austen men like Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice.  What is it about this man that captures the imagination of the female reader?  In the beginning, after all, he is pretty much a jerk.  The reader is made to fall in love with him as Elizabeth Bennett does, so that when the climactic moment of their professed love finally comes, you have BECOME Elizabeth Bennet, and Mr. Darcy is, at last, "your" Mr. Darcy.  

Colin Firth's portrayal of him does not exactly hurt either.  

The female reader's love  for all things Austen - and Mr. Darcy in particular - sets the background for Austenland.  American single woman Jane Hayes has a serious Austen problem.  She constantly fails at love, and as her list of ex-boyfriends grows longer, so does the number of times she watches the BBC's version of Pride and Prejudice grow bigger and bigger.  As each relationship sinks in disaster, she compares every man she meets to her beloved Mr. Darcy, and she helplessly wonders if she will ever get out of the trap of Austen's Perfect Man.  Enter Austenland, also knows as Pembrook Park, a sort of fantasy camp for rich women with nothing better to do than go pretend they are in Austen's England for three weeks.  They are briefly schooled in 19th century ettiquette and rules, dressed in authentic Austen period clothing (right down to the undergarments!) and plopped down in the middle of an Austen-like drama, expected to stay in character and "fall in love" with the Mr. Darcy of their dreams.  Jane is left a pre-paid session to this bizarre Wonderland experience in the will of a well-meaning, understanding great aunt, and she decides to take on the challenge of facing her Austen mania so she can kick the habit for good and move on with her life.  Will Jane ever get over her obsession and be able to find the real flesh and blood man of her dreams, or is she doomed to live forever in the Austenland of her mind and heart?

With a premise like that, how can this silly book not be just pure, plain fun?  

And that's exactly what it is.  It is silly and fun.  Shannon Hale paints a beautiful yet hilarious picture of life at Pembrook Parl, where nothing is as it seems and everyone- except Jane - takes themselves far too seriously.  Jane finds herself swept up into the drama of the fantasy while struggling to remember that it is just that - fantasy.  The confusion she experiences is packaged for the reader with a rundown of her ill-fated love affairs, scattered throughout the story.  All the way along there is this sense that there is more going on than meets the eye, so that when it all comes together, and all the mystery is finally revealed, it's an absolutely delicious climactic scene - which then culminates in another absolutely perfect climactic scene, straight out of a modern-day Austen tale. 

This book is well-written, clean, funny, ends well, and speaks to the heart of any woman who has ever fallen completely head over heels in love with a book character, Austen-inspired or not.  This is solid chick lit.  Worth your time. 

Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars
What I'm reading now: The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
2. Crazy Love by Francis Chan
3. The Story of Britain by Rebecca Fraser
4. Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
5. The Autobiography of Henry VIII  by Margaret George 

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