Jane Hayes is a seemingly normal young New Yorker, but she has a secret. Her obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, is ruining her love life: no real man can compare. But when a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become realer than she ever could have imagined.
Decked out in empire-waist gowns, Jane struggles to master Regency etiquette and flirts with gardeners and gentlemen—or maybe even, she suspects, with the actors who are playing them. It’s all a game, Jane knows. And yet the longer she stays, the more her insecurities seem to fall away, and the more she wonders: Is she about to kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?
Let’s just get this out of the way. If there were an actual Austenland, I would be booking my trip ASAP, so the premise of the plot attracted me. Although unlike Jane, I’m not a Colin Firth as Darcy type of girl, my Mr. Darcy will forever be Matthew Macfadyen. I know, I know, I will receive a million emails telling me how crazy I am but to me Macfadyen suited the role better.
Jane Hayes is a thirty-something graphic designer who has given up on love after a string of failed relationships (note, Jane considers a ‘boyfriend’ to be any guy that asks her out for coffee). She fears that she will end up like Miss Havisham, complete with ragged wedding dress and moldy cake, because she’s waiting on her Mr. Darcy to come and sweep her off her feet.
She’s Austen-obsessed but it was the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice that sent obsession into overdrive. When her great-aunt discovers her P&P DVDs stashed in a potted plant, she bequeaths Jane a trip to Austenland—Jane Austen immersion experience—in her will.
Although the entire time Jane is at Austenland, she’s fighting the experience and decides to fall for the guy she believes to be the gardener.
I hesitated at the start of this book when the narrator broke into the narration with,
“It was embarrassing. She (Jane) didn’t want to talk about it. So let’s move on.”
And sadly, the narrator continued to break in through the entire book, which became downright annoying. Two things kept me reading, first: it was a book club read and second: I wanted to see how the book compared to the movie.
While there were good points to the novel, Jane came off as wishy-washy. She has a Darcy obsession but she’s ashamed of this obsession and hides her P&P stash like it’s her dirty little secret, which drove me up the wall. You’re a Darcy fan, just bloody own it!
For a 33-year-old, Jane was so immature. By day seven at Austenland she’s developed a relationship of sorts with the, Martin, the gardener. Although after a disagreement, the following occurs.
‘Then she smelled it. The musty, acrid, sour, curdled, metallic, decaying odor of ending. This wasn’t just a first fight. She’d been in this position too many times not to recognize the signs.
“Are you breaking up with me?” she asked’
I mean seriously? It’s been seven, I repeat seven, days at a place where you pay to have the Jane Austen experience, which means you’re paying to have someone to pretend to fall in love with you. And even at the end of the novel, she is still sullen because she ‘people are being paid to pretend to like her’.
I’ve been told on numerous occasions that Shannon Hale is a brilliant writer, so I was a little shocked to find Austenland lacking. If Hale would have found her own voice and not tried to emulate Austen’s style of writing, I think the plot would have flowed better.
Overall, there were bits that I enjoyed, getting the character backstories, but this one just didn’t click with me. Hopefully, Midnight At Austenland will be better.
A tale of two Janes: Book vs. Movie
Austenland was silly, goofy, and laugh-out-loud-until-you-gigglesnort type of funny and I totally loved it. (Read my full reviewof Austenland: The Movie) The premise of both is the same although the difference between the book and movie comes down to the portrayal of Jane.
While she is still obsessed in the movie, Movie Jane owns her obsession. She doesn’t hide it away and she’s not ashamed of it. Rather than being bequeathed the holiday to Austenland like Book Jane was, Movie Jane takes the trip on her own so Movie Jane isn’t fighting the immersion experience. It made Movie Jane more likable than Book Jane.
I liked that in the book, Mr. Nobley was more fleshed-out and his backstory was revealed. In the movie, he’s more approachable and, while I won’t say what, there’s something that sets him apart from the other actors at Austenland that intrigued me.
I was also shocked to see that in the book, Mrs. Wattlesbrook is almost nonexistent while she is a major presence in the movie.
Overall, I’m honestly surprised to say this, but I liked the movie better than the book. There was more chemistry between Jane and Nobley and the movie ending is so much better than the book ending. And I won’t lie, I’ve watched this movie half-a-dozen times since purchasing it in the middle of December.
Author: Shannon Hale
Format I Read: Trade Paperback