Getting in Touch with my Austen Peeps – A Challenging Review

Some of you may have remembered that I’ve taken up a couple of challenges this year. (I first mentioned them in this post here and this one here.) Both involve reading and reviewing books with differing themes. Not such a tough thing for a lover of reading, I admit. In the end, not so much challenging as just fun and another excuse to share some great books with you. I have two reviews for you this week – one today and one this weekend.

pride-prejudice-bicentenary-challenge-2013-x-200For the Pride & Prejudice Bicentenniary Challenge, I wasn’t ready to tackle the original text just yet. Then I stumbled on some news about a children’s author I follow on Twitter. Then I read that she not only wrote something for adults, but that it had a Jane Austen theme. Not only that, the first book in this new series was just made into a movie. And it’s all about a woman who is totally obsessed with Pride and Prejudice and that fantastic Mr. Darcy, much to the detriment of her own love life.

Perfect!

The book?

Austenland by Shannon HaleAustenlandPB150

Here’s the plot summary:

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?

And honestly, how many of us (participating in this challenge or not) can identify to some degree with a (slightly obsessive) preoccupation with Pride & Prejudice and hoping that there is a Mr. Darcy out there for us as well? Of course, I’m not saying that we would take it to Jane’s extreme, but still…

Jane is at first ecstatic to be immersed in the world of corsets and drawing rooms, but soon she finds the actors a little too spot on, feeling as if she is the fraud ruining this romantic utopia. She begins to think back on each of her failed relationships to see where they all fell short of the most perfect romance ever written. Is there really a Mr. Darcy out there for her or should she stick to her plan and get this nonsense out of her system once and for all?

Here’s a brief excerpt:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a thirty-something woman in possession of a satisfying career and fabulous hairdo must be in want of very little, and Jane Hayes, pretty enough and clever enough, was certainly thought to have little to distress her. There was no husband, but those weren’t necessary anymore. There were boyfriends, and if they came and went in a regular stream of mutual dissatisfaction—well, that was the way of things, wasn’t it?

But Jane had a secret. By day, she bustled and luncheoned and emailed and over timed and just-in-timed, but sometimes, when she had the time to slip off her consignment store pumps and lounge on her hand-me-down sofa, she dimmed the lights, turned on her nine inch television, and acknowledged what was missing.

Sometimes, she watched Pride and Prejudice.

You know, the BBC double DVD version, starring Colin Firth as the delicious Mr. Darcy and that comely, busty English actress as the Elizabeth Bennet we had imagined all along. Jane watched and re-watched the part where Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy look at each other over the piano, and there’s that zing, and her face softens, and he smiles, his chest heaving as though he’d breathe in the sight of her, and his eyes are glistening so that you’d almost think he’d cry…Ah!

Each time, Jane’s heart banged, her skin chilled, and she clamped down on the distracting ache in her gut with a bowl of something naughty, like Cocoa Pebbles. That night she would dream of gentlemen in Abraham Lincoln hats, and then in the morning laugh at herself and toy with the idea of hauling those DVDs and all her Austen books to the second hand store.

Of course, she never did.

That pesky movie version was the culprit. Sure, Jane had first read Pride and Prejudice when she was sixteen, read it a dozen times since, and read the other Austen novels at least twice, except Northanger Abbey (of course). But it wasn’t until the BBC put a face on the story that those gentlemen in tight breeches had stepped out of her reader’s imagination and into her non-fiction hopes. Stripped of Austen’s funny, insightful, biting narrator, the movie became a pure romance. And Pride and Prejudice was the most stunning, bite-your-hand romance ever, the kind that stared straight into Jane’s soul and made her shudder.

It was embarrassing. She didn’t really want to talk about it. So let’s move on.

Hale gives a charming, if at times uncomfortable, view of what it would feel like to actually be transported to one’s own Austenland. Be careful what you wish for, here. This book may make you question how much of your concepts of romance, what you expected to find out in the world when searching for someone to be your partner in life – the deep down ones that you never told anyone – were based on unrealistic expectations and fantasies not to be found in the real world. You may ask yourself, “Is this nagging sense of my life being incomplete that I sometimes get after reading/watching P & P from some lame lack of fulfillment or just the wistful longing that great literature can evoke?”

Of course, those stories never show the perfect romantic couples dealing with whose turn it is to take out the trash or feed the screaming baby at 2 AM either, do they?

This is a great, easy read for any hardcore Austen fan to enjoy.

Learn more about Shannon Hale and her books here.

Advertisements