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Book Review: Austenland by Shannon Hale

Title:                   Austenland
Author:             Shannon Hale
Format:             Hardcover
Price:                  PHP 99.00
(got my copy from a book sale pile)
Read Date:      8 March 2012

Synopsis (From Goodreads):
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?

Review In A Nutshell:
Austenland is pretty straightforward work of fiction. I was worried that it would sound like some random ramblings of a crazed Jane Austen fan but it wasn’t. Jane Austen’s world was merely used as an inspiration and a template in this novel.  Shannon Hale succeeded and kept true to that notion making Austenland a solid body of work.  It was simple yet fun, otherworldly but relatable.

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Shannon Hale's letter to Colin Firth, to whom Austenland is dedicated to.
Source: http://www.squeetus.com/stage/austen_firth.html

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More than a year ago, my friends and I did a marathon wherein we watched three (3) adaptations of Pride & Prejudice, one of Jane Austen’s most popular novels.  As I was working on a graveyard shift then, staying up with zero hours of sleep would be my biggest challenge. However, Mr. Darcy made it easy for me and I managed to finish all the adaptations, swooning all the way.  I guess it’ll be no surprise why I picked up Austenland by Shannon Hale. As I flip through its pages, I realized that it wasn’t your typical Austen-inspired fiction. It was more.

Blurbs about Austenland. Unfortunately, Colin Firth's not on it. Awwww.
Image Source: http://www.squeetus.com/stage/books_austen.html

Austenland is a story that revolves around Jane Hayes, a thirty-something typical New Yorker but with an obsession for Pride & Prejudice, specifically the BBC miniseries version starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy.  This obsession is often seen by her relatives and friends as one of the reasons why Jane couldn’t keep a guy for more than she should: she would always use Mr. Darcy as her barometer.  To somewhat cure her of this obsession, an eccentric, wealthy relative of Jane who passed away bequeathed her a three-week, all-expense paid vacation to Pembrook Park in Kent, England, where the place seems to be frozen in the Regency era. While she initially begrudged the idea, Jane eventually went through with the vacation and perhaps got the biggest lesson of her life while wearing a corset.

Austenland is pretty straightforward work of fiction. I was worried that it would sound like some random ramblings of a crazed Jane Austen fan but it wasn’t. Jane Austen’s world was merely used as an inspiration and a template in this novel.  Shannon Hale succeeded and kept true to that notion making Austenland a solid body of work.  It was simple yet fun, otherworldly but relatable. Jane Hayes’ journey into letting go of her obsession and allowing herself to be more rooted into her reality was delightful to read. I also enjoyed reading the past boyfriend snippets, which reminded me hugely of the Katherines in Colin Singleton’s life in John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines.

It’s no surprise that Austenland is being adapted into a movie, which is produced by Shannon Hale’s good friend and fellow author, Stephenie Meyer (If you don’t know her, then you’re living under a rock… I jest… But seriously… :P), and stars Keri Russell (Felicity) as Jane Hayes. From what I’ve seen and heard in the production process, it’ll definitely be on my must-watch list.

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My Rating:
3 out of 5 stars

My Two Cents:
Buy it if you’re a Shannon Hale fan and if you can afford it. This is because the paperback version, which is about a centimetre thick, retails at nearly PHP 600.00! Yikes. That’s like two (2) paperback books right there. I guess I was lucky when I found my copy. The book gods were smiling at me. If you can’t afford it, just purchase an eBook compatible with your eReader.

Interesting Facts About Austenland:
– It took Shannon Hale six (6) years to finish Austenland.
– The original title of the novel was Ostensibly Jane.
– The author wrote several alternate endings to the novel on her official website, which are spoiler-heavy if you haven’t read the book yet.
– The book already has a sequel entitled Midnight in Austenland, which was released early this year. I have yet to find a copy locally though. Le sigh!
– Other more interesting facts about the book can be found here.

Other Fun Stuff:
– Stephenie Meyer talks about Austenland

– Cast interviews and behind-the-scenes look at the Austenland movie

– Shannon Hale with Stephenie Meyer and the Austenland cast on set

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