Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Love and First Impressions

I am a sucker for a good Austen-oriented anything (evidence: see past posts, like this one or this one...); therefore, when I heard that this novel - Austenland, by Shannon Hale - was in the works to be a movie (coming out this September in the UK, according to IMDB), I knew I had to read it! I've even gotten so progressively excited about it, that I listed it on my Top Ten TBR List for this summer. I had ordered it on my Kindle back in April, but now, it was finally time to see if the book lived up to the hype...

The novel is told from the point of view of a woman named Jane Hayes, who, after confessing her undying devotion to the character of Mr. Darcy to a dying relative,  is bequeathed an expensive vacation to Pembrook Park, an immersive Austen experience, where the "point of the game" is, as it was in the Regency era as well, to nab a proposal from a worthy gentleman. Despite the fact that almost all of the players in Jane's three weeks in Austenland are actors, she can't help but develop some very real feelings in this land of fiction. Are any of these suitors remotely suitable for our humble heroine? Or is this city girl getting in over her head at the county estate of Pembrook Park?

I've been lacking in summer sunshine for a while now, and this was the perfect book to lend me a little light. The entire novel was as sweet and satisfying as eating a cupcake, with none of the residual guilt leftover. It's a beach read, it's chick lite, it's like the Caramel Frappuccino of literature. And honestly, that just what you need sometimes, and especially when you're running around doing a million things during the summer! If you're looking to spend your time on something cute that will make you feel happy, and you're not ready for the responsibility of owning a puppy, this book will fit the bill.

Also, what girl hasn't wanted to do the same things our workaholic heroine got to do? (Actually, this is a legitimate question. Are there any normal people out there?) The entire premise, of a vacation destination that solely revolves around the Regency realm of one of England's most-loved authors, is probably the most attractive and interesting element in this novel. You don't just read to see how our heroine gets on in this mystery world, but how would things be run around there? What food/dresses/activities would be involved? The setting is the title of the novel itself, because that's what is most involving about the novel in the first place! If Disneyland suddenly opened its doors to a Regency-era Austenland, where there are bonnets and gowns and heart-breakingly handsome Mr. Darcys everywhere (with some Bingleys thrown in for good measure), I'm sure even Mickey Mouse himself would have to duck and cover.

The only arguments I found over this daydream-y confection, was a supreme lack of stakes. Our heroine attempts explanation of her own sense of increasing suspense and necessity for sneakiness again and again, but each of her inner turmoils seemed to me to be more ill-founded and exhausting than the last. I think that was mainly a character trait, in a woman who confesses that she is "crazy intense," with, let's face it, special emphasis on the crazy. And, let's face it, again, if she had just leant back, had a super fun vacation, and gone on her merry way, then she would have been incredibly un-interesting as a character. Her flaws were necessary; I just wish that they were better explained.

Overall, a sweetly involving romp through a Jane Austen lover's world, with a modern girl's sensibilities to balance out the rigid social structures and over-trodden landscape. A perfect dose of summer sweetness.

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