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Austenland: A Novel
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170 of 178 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2007
Shh, now. We really don't want to let this one get out, but there's a subculture afoot in the world. And I, alas, am hopelessly mired in its tentacles. Most of us are women, but there are a few men in our ranks, and we have a secret in common, tucked away on our bookshelves and video collections.

We are all hopelessly in love with Mr Darcy. Or rather, the most perfect manifestation of him in the form of Colin Firth.

This slim novel opens with Jane Hayes having a conversation with her elderly aunt, a very wealthy woman at the tag end of her life. Jane is more than a little nervous about this conversation, having been pushed into it by her bullying mother who's hoping for a piece of the old woman's estate. Jane is both fascinated and humiliated by the conversation, but a few months later gets a phone call from a lawyer who informs her that she's been left something by her aunt.

You're not rich, is the first thing that he says. But he does have a bit of a surprise for Jane -- an all-expenses paid holiday at a very private, very discreet resort in England for three weeks. Pembrook Park promises to fulfull the visitor's dreams of entering the world of genteel, simmering romance that the works of Jane Austen. After some qualms, and facing the fact that the trip is indeed, nonrefundable, Jane embarks on her trip. Perhaps now she can finally dispell her unrealistic fantasies of Mr Darcy and get on with her life; the solution is very simple, just immerse herself into the world of Austen until she is heartily sick of it, and disenchanted, and then she'll be free.

It's not that easy, and Jane's already nervous when she arrives at the inn where she's to shed her modern persona and turn into Miss Jane Erstwhile. At first, it's rather amusing, dressing in the clothing of the period, and learning to dance with a very tall, good-looking, but alas, only a servant by the name of Martin. Under the rather draconian eye of Mrs. Wattlesbrook , Jane finds out that a few modern conveniences have been allowed in -- such as modern plumbing and cosmetics -- but alas, no cell-phone, so by the time she arrives at the actual Pembrook Park, there's a distinct aura of authenticity to her.

And then there are the men -- three aristocratic men by the names of Colonel Andrews, Captain East and Mr. Nobley. Jane finds herself decidedly at the bottom of the leisured ladder, but still -- there's something about that Mr. Nobley that keeps them encountering each other, even though they throughly dislike each other. And despite knowing that it's all a game, Jane finds herself with two possible suitors -- and one of them is that gardener, Martin.

But there's a limit to this pretty bubble, and as the clock winds down, whatever is Jane to do when her time is up and she has to return to the dull reality of the 21st century?

I'll say it right off. It's a cute novel, and at times, just a bit too cute. But it worked for me, as I found myself chuckling over Jane's mishaps of trying to fit into a culture, but she can't quite keep her modern sensibilities at bay. Along the way there's some good pun, inside jokes for Jane Austen addicts, and a vivid writing style. One of the main reasons why I picked this one up is that it had a lot of appeal to me because I've been involved in historical re-enaction groups, and this one was no different. Hale's word-pictures of people trying to fit into a much more mannered time does get funny, as well as the synopsises of Jane's former boyfriends that introduce each chapter.

At the core of the novel lay the truth of any person -- that with some confidence and the knowledge that you know what you want, it's a good bet you'll get what you want out of life. The humor is gentle in this one, and while it is aimed at a specific market, it should have a wide appeal to most adult readers.

Hale is more familiar to readers of young adult fiction, but this one works. Her writing style is fluid and while the conversations get a bit stilted in places, and of course there's plenty of anachronisms in this, it still satisfies. My biggest complaint is that it could have easily been a longer novel, and I wish that Hale had taken the story a bit more in depth -- the novel is only about two hundred pages -- so it comes in overall at a tidy three and a half stars, rounded up to four.

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98 of 115 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2008
Austenland could almost work. This very readable offering from a hitherto trusted author explores vital issues that need resolution in more lives than the fictional Jane's. I anticipated real resolution. Instead, we got to watch Jane set herself up for yet another unreal relationship, only this time, with a man who's given evidence of profound capacity for real commitment. It is almost tragedy.

I'll try to explain without giving too much away. Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy gets the blame for Jane's lengthy history of failed relationships, but the little vignettes about them reveal the real problem -- Jane's overeagerness to fall in love and to idealize her beloved rather than come to really know him and relate to him as a living, breathing, fallible but lovable individual. Prime example is the boyfriend of 5 months that Jane "experiences" without "trading psychological profiles", only to drop him cold when she hears him snort while laughing. That's not a relationship, but a failed fantasy. And yes, she collects creeps, but how could she avoid doing so when she persistently throws herself into a romance without first solidifying a friendship? She doesn't give herself time to discern whether he's a creep or not, or to discover the mixture of quirks and strengths that form the basis for a real, loving relationship.

Austenland is supposed to be therapy for Jane's penchant for fantasy. And it almost is, with a few twists and turns through layers of self-deception. At last, the moment of truth comes, Jane discovers that she's been deceived yet again and walks away. (Good for her)! And reality -- or the potential of a genuine, committed relationship, follows her onto the plane.

She is astounded. She is disbelieving. She says "you don't know me." He says he thinks he does and he wants a chance at forever. He is seatbelted next to her for a transatlantic flight. A perfect opportunity for the best and lengthiest conversation of her life -- a conversation that could lay the foundation for forever. They don't have it. Instead, she pulls him close and kisses him... for the entire flight, only to continue romancing in her apartment once the plane touches down.

Reality has gone on a holiday. We're back in fantasyland, and dreading what's going to happen to this already wounded hero when Jane finally wakes up and discovers that he snorts, or does something else equally irritating.

A different ending could have made this a worthwhile read, although it might not overcome the improbabilities of finding a good man in a high-class-almost-brothel like Austenland.

I expected better of Hale.
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59 of 70 people found the following review helpful
on June 23, 2007
This is an absolutely wonderful book.

Our protagonist Jane is a contemporary young New York City "spinster." While she has a great career, she longs for the Regency era of olde England. She loves the BBC series with Colin Firth (and that woman who played Elizabeth, too).

Then something happens which thrusts Jane into a fictional resort in England, where visitors have to behave exactly like Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. For three weeks, she has to become Elizabeth, pretty much.

The result is great fun and great learning, too. Just like with Jane Austen, it's a funny and insightful trip for all of us. The wit and pacing are quick, and the language carefully crafted for atmosphere.

I enjoyed it, but, regrettably, it made me wish that Austenland really existed. Last year my wife and I enjoyed visiting the hotel on the Vanderbilt estate outside of Asheville, NC, and can understand the escapist appeal offered by experiences of this kind...any private venture capital available??
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on August 21, 2013
I picked this book up on a whim, thinking it might be an interesting read. I read it in two days - not because it was so thrilling that I couldn't put it down...oh no, it was more of to get it over with!
The writing style, while not completely awful, was actually very juvenile and 'goofy'. I was under the impression that the main reader of this book would be someone of the age to appreciate Colin Firth in a wet shirt, which is not exactly the teenage aptitude for which this writing style suits. (I later discovered that the author does write teen fiction, which explains a lot).

The main character, Jane 'Erstwhile' Hayes- I could not sympathize or like her at all. She is immature and wishy-washy at the best of times. Why she should be ashamed of her love of classic literature and the telling of such in dvd form (her Pride & Prejudice dvd's that get randomly hidden around her apartment) is beyond me. Even if she watched it an ungodly amount of times and imagined herself as Lizzie Bennet, there is no reason to think that, just by seeing it on her shelf, her friends and family would know of her obsession.
While I commend her for not being like the 'average' woman of this day and age (I'm one of those rare people who still believes in the whole 'sex-is-for-marriage' thing), I find Jane to be so utterly hopeless when it comes to relationships that, should I perchance to meet her somewhere, I would like to recommend a good therapist before she even thinks of attempting to be in another relationship. She counts among her 'past boyfriends' a sixth grader with whom she shared pixy sticks and valentines, and a oily man whom she'd seen for three weeks after he complimented her (despite her bad haircut).
During her stay at Pembrook Park, she seems to continuously forget that the people she is with are all actors or guests, and even though she makes up her mind to 'indulge and play along', Jane is constantly doing the exact opposite. She says over and over that she's made up her mind, and yet, she never really does. It's all 'oh, i'm going to dive in head-first and get this over with, but i refuse to lie about my actual age' and similar idiotic things.

But enough of my dislike for Jane - another point I can't leave out is that the author really seems like she's trying really hard to include themes and ideas from the many books she's read. (From what she's written, she's obviously read all of Jane Austen's work, Jane Eyre, and Great Expectations as well - all of which I have read so I know of what I speak...or type). It was so obvious to me at the very beginning that * SPOILER ALERT* Mr. Nobely was to be Jane's 'Darcy' character, whether or not she knew it. Seriously, the girl went with the ideal of Darcy in her mind, and yet Mr. Nobley acts as terse and rude as one would hope, yet she can't see that he is the one who she's been pining after for her ENTIRE LIFE.
I'm shaking my head at the density of this character.
Aside from that, there are so many poorly regurgitated ideas that Miss Hale has borrowed from Austen that I could practically count them on my hands; and not only does she use them fairly obviously, she actually compares certain events and people to Austen's characters and their attributes. I understand that the 'actors' and Pembrook should indeed have these characteristics, but it goes much further than flattering imitation.

The one redeeming part of this book, the short period of time in which I actually allowed myself to hope for a decent ending, was ruined by the terrible ending. *SPOILER ALERT* Turning down Mr. Nobley during his awkward proposal was pretty amazing. It bothered me that Jane was set to jump into a 'real world' relationship with Martin despite only knowing him for a few weeks (and even then, how often did she really see him? Not often enough to get serious with, especially when they live continents apart). However, the fact that Jane came to herself and showed Mrs. Wattlesbrook a bit of the what-for when she had been such a douche actually felt pretty good. And when Jane was at the airport, I was so impressed with her turning on her heel and leaving the two actors/love interests gaping behind her with the last sentiment of 'Tally Ho!' still ringing in their ears, I was really surprised and happy. I had been completely let down with Jane throughout the entire novel, but I actually sat up straighter and let myself believe that there might be a decent ending. Maybe Mr. Nobley would think of what he'd done and somehow make contact with Jane when she landed back in the U.S., where they would start to get to know each other online or over the phone.
Well. Was I wrong.
Lo and behold, Mr. Nobley somehow gets himself onto the plane with ease (despite being dressed like a lunatic, to which I would think might cause some sort of delay) and plops himself into the seat next to Jane, confessing that his feelings for her are and always have been real.
It seemed so far-fetched to me, and so ridiculous at this point, that I had to keep myself from throwing the book against the wall. But, I rallied and continued on to the end like a trouper because, in all seriousness, I paid $11 for this book and I was darn well going to finish it.

In the end, I felt so much like I had just read a fairly-well written internet fan-fiction by a fanciful teenage 'mary-sue', that I felt really ripped off.
There was nothing more to this book than a lot of girlish fantasies that made me cringe and wonder where the characters with the eye-patches, scars, and heterochromia were. (If you haven't read fan-fiction or comics, this might go over your head, but basically, they're staple characters that young authors love to inject into their often self-starring delusional writings).

I have never wanted to hurt an inanimate object in my life, but my honest to goodness thoughts when I finished this book were 'I want to strangle this book...I hate this book!'
It was such a disappointment, I really wouldn't recommend it to anyone over the age of 20.
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38 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2011
*** Warning: This review contains spoilers! ***

This book is not for Jane Austen fans. Jane Austen was a master of dialogue, of showing rather than telling the reader what was going on. The relationships of her characters, the events they experienced, were engaging, meaningful, and sometimes surprising. In this book, however, the writing was uneven and poorly worded (I sometimes had to re-read sentences just to figure out what they were trying to say!), the plot development loose and predictable, and the dialogue actually cringe-worthy. If anything, Austenland is written for young, hip fans of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

Austenland's main character is named Jane. Really. It's a bit much, right? And she is nothing like the main characters in Jane Austen's novels, though she flatters herself by comparing herself to them. Elizabeth Bennett was witty and clever, Emma Woodhouse was charming and poised, Fanny Price was self-aware and principled - and none of them needed a man. Even though these characters were surrounded by women who wanted nothing more than to find a suitable husband, they themselves were strong and independent, and they found love and marriage despite the fact that they didn't go looking for it. Jane Hayes, on the other hand, was co-dependent and desperate to find a man. She was the complete opposite of a Jane Austen heroine. Instead of sympathizing with her, I started to side with her ex-boyfriends. Who would want to marry her!? When two guys fell for her at Pembrook Park, I honestly couldn't figure out why. What was so great about her?

Jane Austen's novels gave me a beautiful and charming impression of Regency England, but the "Austenland" described in this book didn't sound remotely interesting to me. Do such places really exist? If so, I hope they plan their retreats better than Mrs. Wattlesbrook did. With a one-to-one ratio of men to women, only three clients in one location at a time, and a lecherous drunk hanging around, the place sounded pathetic, boring, and even a bit creepy.

The book almost redeemed itself with a solid ending when Jane walked away from Mr. Nobley and Martin with her head held high. THAT was a perfect ending, in which Jane learns that she is a smart, confident woman whose self-worth is NOT dependent on having a man. Unfortunately, it all got thrown out the window when the book continued on to its actual ending. Jane DOES need a man after all, and even though she hadn't really felt attracted to this man before, she would throw herself at him just as she had thrown herself at Martin less than three weeks previously. And based on the Jane I met in this book, my money is on the relationship crashing and burning within a month of the plane's landing.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2013
I wanted to read this book because of the upcoming Keri Russell movie, and comparison's to Bridget Jones's Diary.

I regret this decision.

The only thing in common between this book and Bridget Jones is that both characters like Colin Firth.

The concept is fun and exciting: people go to a Jane Austen-themed estate (resort, or theme park, lacking better terms) and pretend to live in that era, complete with costumes and dialog. Tension arises as characters don't know if other characters are falling in love with them, or if it's just the part they're playing to fall in love.

Austenland is a lot zanier than Bridget Jones. Yes, Bridget is kooky, but to me she's believable (at least in the first book). Austenland's daffy premise leaks over into its characters. The main character, Jane something-or-other is a dizzy idiot who will flip-flop back and forth between one man, another man, or no men, multiple times *on the same page*. In about 190 pages, the character must change her mind at least 600 times.

The main character is the type that is all "woe is me, I'm unlucky in love and giving up men," and we're supposed to sympathize with her. The poor victim in the game of love! However, she's also the type that will break up with a man because he snorts (that's seriously the only reason) and laugh at another man in bed. Yet when something humiliating happens to her, she wants us to feel sorry for her. Not going to happen.

A man says to her, earnestly, in the end: You are irresistible. If he hadn't told me, I wouldn't have realized.

I wish I had realized that this book was about someone obsessed with the movie version, not with the works on Jane Austen. As such, it feels like a movie. It's talky and flashy, but with no substance. It's a movie I don't want to see.

I think I would have enjoyed it more if the characters had played it "straight", livening up the absurdity of it all. Also, just a smidgen of Jane Austen's with and charm would have worked wonders, as would her penchant for satire. I also would have appreciated if there weren't two token gay characters whose sexuality is used as a punchline.
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33 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on August 16, 2007
I was so excited to read this most recent publication of Mrs. Hale's as I have so much enjoyed her other books. I was sadly disappointed. The richness and depth of her other stories was absolutely missing . It felt like I was reading a romance novel written by a teenager trying to sound like a grown up. She did her timeperiod research and referred to Jane Austen's books accurately. But, I felt her storyline was weak and very transparent. In many places it felt as though she was trying too hard to make the book sexy or adult. Whatever the reason, poor word choice or perhaps because I am not used to Mrs. Hale writing trashy love novels, it seemed forced and weak. Parts of it were confusing and difficult to follow. Overall, I was disappointed and hope that with her next book she will return to the style and type of literature she writes so beautifully.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Jane Hayes is just your average, thirty-something, single New Yorker except for one little thing...her obsession with Pride and Prejudice, particularly with Mr. Darcy (as portrayed by Colin Firth, of course!), is ruining her life. No living, breathing, real man can compare to Darcy, the epitome of Regency-era male perfection. And so a succession of relationships crashes and burns, and Jane secretly watches her P&P DVDs, and then hides them like contraband from others when they visit her apartment, just in case they should see them and guess at her grand obsession (and correspondingly pathetic lack of a love life).

Then Jane's Aunt Carolyn dies and leaves her an unexpected and intriguing bequest in her will -- a three week stay at a role-playing resort in England called Austenland, a complete immersion into Austen's world for obsessed fanatics such as Jane. Seizing the opportunity to lay her Darcy fantasies to rest forever so she can live for something real, Jane accepts the trip and and heads to Austenland to live as Miss Jane Erstwhile, circa 1816, for three weeks. Jane's resolve to put her Darcy-esque fantasies behind her forever is sorely tested when confronted with the reality of the handsome, cravat-wearing gentlemen who populate Austenland and pay court to female guests. In the ultimate Austen-lover's fantasy world, can Jane find something real?

I so enjoyed this book. Hale's novel is a witty, clever send-up of the rabid Austen / Darcy mania that just about every woman I know can relate to in some degree. I would have liked to have seen the novel written in first-person from Jane's point-of-view -- the concept just screams "chick lit" and a change from third- to first-person would have enabled Hale to give greater insight and depth to Jane's character and smoothed out the narrative a bit. The supporting cast of characters that people Austenland is fabulous, though slightly underdeveloped. At a mere 194 pages, Austenland is an extremely short, fast read that begs to be about 100 pages longer (at least). I loved the world Hale created, and I loved Jane (I can SO relate to her Darcy mania!) and a certain someone that she meets at Austenland -- I won't spoil the surprise for those of you reading the review by naming names, even though when you read the novel Jane's real-life "Darcy" is telegraphed VERY early on. However, this lack of suspense doesn't detract from the sheer enjoyability of the read. I just wish there was more of it. Primarily known as a young adult fantasy author (The Goose Girl,Enna Burning) Hale is a promising voice in funny, clever, chick-lit style novels and I look forward to reading more from her. Austenland is a perfect summer read -- what it may lack in substance it more than compensates for in wit and invention.
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27 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 2008
I just love her other books, Book of a Thousand Days, The princess academy, The Goose Girl and Enna burning. My friends warned me it wasn't the same and they didn't like it. When I read it I figured out why. It lacks all of the depth and imagination of her children's books. It is basically one makeout session after another, NOT my type of book at all. It was very disapointing and I really couldn't believe the unreal ending either. In the fairy tale type books the fairy tale type endings work and she does it masterfully and usually with a twist. This ending was just bizarre and it leaves you wondering if the main character will ever ever grow up.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2009
I am a fan of Austen's work and confess to being a rabid Anglophile. However I was disappointed with the novel. The writing was uneven and I couldn't figure out what Jane, the central character, really wanted. Neither could she it seemed. Ms. Hale didn't seem to know what sort of novel she wanted to write either, perhaps this is a hazard of having written previous books geared toward teenaged girls, because the book did not read as though it were full of adult characters. Jane is supposed to be a 31 year old woman, but her behavior and thoughts suggest something more juvenile, maybe that of an 18 year old. Mr. Nobley's transition process felt unconvincing and the final fourth of the book felt hurried and gave in to so many of the cliched phrases from some of the really bad romance novels out there (Yes, I've read my share, more for a laugh than anything else.) And yes we all love that Jane Austen's characters make "triumphant matches" in the end and obviously Ms. Hale could not have ended her book any other way, given her patterning after Austen, but are we still really trying to promote the idea that for women the only "happy ending" involves a man? How about Jane just adopting a more realistic view of men and dating and actually growing up?
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