Shannon Hale's newest book, Austenland, is a fun take on Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice. The main character, named Jane (of course), is a young woman with a Mr. Darcy obsession; most particularly a Mr. Darcy obsession that closely matches the Darcy of Colin Firth fame. [Pause for a collective dreamy sigh.] Jane is continually disappointed in the men she meets because they never measure up to her Mr. Darcy expectations.
Jane must confront her Darcy obsession when an elderly aunt dies and leaves her an inheritance that is quite specific -- a three week trip to an English resort that caters to Austen lovers. After a brief "should I stay or should I go," Jane decides to take the trip and indulge her Darcy obsession one last time before putting it to rest for good.
While at Pembrook Park, the guests mingle with actors who represent Austen characters. Each guest is assigned a name and a role to play. The characters must maintain the charade wearing only Regency attire and following Regency etiquette right down to the bows, curtsies, and class divisions. Reality and fiction blur for Jane while at Pembrook Park and this creates more confusion for her as she finds herself simultaneously attracted to the gardener and Mr. Nobley (aka Darcy). While Jane is looking for love, she realizes that the gentlemen at Pembrook Park are merely actors. Or are they? Who is the cad and who is the gentleman? Just like Austen's Pride & Prejudice, Ms. Hale keeps the tension high until the end.
Overall I had a lot of fun reading Austenland. While I think Ms. Hale's young adult books (The Goose Girl, Enna Burning, etc.) are better and deal with deeper issues such as the nature of friendship, Austenland serves as an amusing diversion filled with Austenisms and wit. Definitely for Austen lovers.
I met the author at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Arizona. By the way, if you're ever in the Phoenix area, you really must visit this bookstore. It is a marvelous blend of new and used books that are interfiled on the shelves. The store is quite a bit larger than I anticipated and features a bakery that opens right off of the store. Anyway, back to the signing .... I found Shannon to be a delightful person who entertained us with a few stories and insights before the signing. One of the stories she shared with us was a conversation she had with her husband after he read Austenland. Apparently, her novel reminded him of a movie that she had never seen ... Westworld. Westworld is a kind of high-tech Disneyland where visitors can act out their wild west fantasies. While Pembrook Park has real people acting alongside the guests, Westworld uses human looking robots. Apparently, said husband couldn't get the Westworld connection out of his head and thought it would be a good idea if Shannon included a robot in her story. She told the audience to "look for the robot suit" in her novel.
Getting to hear the stories behind the writing are what makes author signings so much fun. Oh, and getting your picture taken with:
Also reviewed at:
A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore
The Written Word
Maw Books Blog