***** (5 out of 5)
Austenland by Shannon Hale
Do you ever imagine scenarios in your head while you are trying to fall asleep? Like if you are reading a really good book and you replace yourself with the main character?You go through all the scenarios in the book and then make up new stories using the same characters? No? Then this book probably isn’t for you.
But if you are like me, and especially if your scenarios tend toward the romantic side, then this book is just what you have been looking for. (I don’t have a good word to describe these “scenarios” I play in my head. The closest thing I can come up with is daydreaming, but that isn’t quite right) In the book Jane gets to live out her “daydreams” in Austenland. Don’t you wish you could actually experience the romances that play out inside your head?
Jane is a perfectly normal Thirty-three year old New Yorker with a Pride and Prejudice obsession. While she loves the book it was the Colin Firth DVD that did her in. Every boy she dated she compared to Mr. Darcy. She took it to the point where it interfered with her relationships.
When Jane’s Great-Aunt Carolyn arranges a trip for her to Austenland, Jane hesitates but ultimately decides to go. At Austenland she gives up all her 21st century gizmos and clothing and submerse herself into the 1800s (with the added luxury of indoor plumbing and electric kerosene lamps). Austenland contains a mix of guests and actors. No one is allowed to break character. For 3 weeks she lives and breaths as if she actually lived in the 1800s.
I can’t say much more without giving any spoilers, but once Jane enters Austenland, her life changes forever. She struggles with remembering that everything is just an act and she learns a lot about herself in the process.
The book is amazingly witty and fun to read. I got sucked in and couldn’t put it down. I loved all the references to the different Jane Austen books. They were obvious enough that I could pick up on them without having read the books in years, but they weren’t forced either. They fit naturally into the story.
Speaking of things fitting naturally into the story. I really liked how the author set up the story. It is hard to put 21st century characters into a 1800s type setting. I liked that everyone knew they were being “transported” in time. That they were all in on it. I hate books and movies where a person is unwillingly transported to another time or when two character switch bodies. (Freaky Friday, Its a Boy/Girl thing, Big, 13 Going on 30, Kate and Leopold, etc.) That whole story line makes me cringe. It probably has something to do with a deep-seated fear of not fitting in and making a fool out of myself, but lets not get into that. It is almost physically painful for me to watch people trying to fit into those situations. I don’t find them funny at all.
I almost didn’t read this book because I was worried that it would follow that path. It sound just different enough that I decided to give it a chance, mostly because living in Austenland seemed to fit so perfectly with my “daydreams.” I had no intention of finishing the book if it went into cringe-worthy territory, but, to my immense relief, it didn’t. It was amazingly written, and there was no cringing!
I would recommend this book to any Jane Austen lover who has ever fantasized about meeting her “Mr. Darcy” (or his “Mr. Darcy”, no judgement here)
There is a sequel to Austenland called “Midnight in Austenland” It is definitely the next book on my reading list. They also turned Austenland into a movie! It didn’t get very good reviews, but I am going to watch it anyway. Even if it is only half as good as the book I know I will enjoy it.