I found Shannon Hale’s novel Austenland on the new books shelf at the library. Since I’m an unabashed Jane Austen fan, though one who’s never read any fan fiction or other spin offs, I thought Austenland would be a fun, summer read.
Premise: Jane Haynes, a single 30-something graphic artist living in New York has is obsessed with Jane Austen novels. An elderly aunt dies and bequeaths Jane a three week stay at Pemberley Park, where everyone lives in the style of Regency England.
Hmmm, could be fun.
Well, Jane first can’t decide if she should go. Her fretting about this non-problem annoyed me. Of course, readers know she’s going or there’s no story.
Jane arrives in the house and meets the other characters, moderns who adopt early 19th century personas and clothes. As you’d expect they resemble Austen’s characters: the uptight Darcy, the cads, the matchmaking middle aged women. Here though we’re also given some pathetic characters like Miss Charming, a 50-ish heavy guest who adopts the personal of a 20 year old. Many come to Pemberley Park for a three week dose of wish fulfillment.
Throughout the story Jane questions her Austen-complex. Mentally, she complains of the boredom of the lifestyle. She bugged me as she was just a four star White Whiner. It’s hard to push through a story when the heroine is bored or questioning why she’s on a vacation. It’s easy enough to extricate oneself from a resort. Pemberley Park is not Alcatraz.
The plot was predictable; the prose, almost witty. The only non-Austen touch was that Jane has a dalliance with a gardener, who would have been invisible in an Austen novel, where the bad men weren’t servants.
Hale’s writing style is chatty and banal. I think she must read chic lit novels exclusively. While it’s hard to be as good as Austen, I think the best route is to avoid emulation and shoot for originality.
I see that the film opens August 16th. I’d wait for Netflix, rather than buying a ticket, though there’s plenty of better good versions of Austen’s oeuvre with dashing actors like Colin Firth, Matthew Macfayden, Rupert Penry-Jones, and Richard Armitage, that it’s hard to imagine that Austenland offers a better experience.