Publication date: 29 May 2007 by Bloomsbury Publishing
Audiobook released June 2008 by Macmillan Audio
Category: Adult Fiction
Keywords: Romance, Jane Austen, chick lit
Format: Hardcover, paperback, eBook, audiobook
Jane Hayes is your typical single female living on her own in NYC. Except Jane has a secret. She’s in love with Mr. Darcy. Particularly with the Colin Firth version of Mr. Darcy in the BBC miniseries of Pride & Prejudice. While she realizes that Mr. Darcy is not a real person, he is the standard by which she judges all men and, not surprisingly, she has had trouble finding someone to meet her high standards.
When Jane’s aunt passes away, she leaves in her will an all expenses paid trip for Jane to Pembrook Park, a Jane Austen themed vacation package. Jane decides that this will be a good opportunity for her to live out her Jane Austen fantasy after which, she would put Mr. Darcy behind her and move on with her life.
I really wanted to like this book. The premise sounded great. As a bit of an Austen groupie myself, the idea of finding romance at a Jane Austen retreat sounds like my dream come true. Unfortunately, Austenland reads like bad chick lit.
Let’s start with Jane. Unfortunately, I never connected with her. I felt like I should have since we live in very similar circumstances, but she was dramatic and whiny most of the time. Somehow through the course of the book, she gives up her Darcy obsession and opens herself up to the possibility of a real romance. Perhaps her evolution was too subtle for me, but I am still not sure how or why she changed. She was able to stop hiding her Pride & Prejudice DVD so that means something, right?
Throughout the book there are little snippets about Jane and her previous “boyfriends.” I say boyfriends in quotation marks because this list includes men that Jane has only been out with once or, in one case, knocked on his door with the intention of asking him out. It’s a ridiculous list, with each boyfriend more hilariously awful than the next. I think we’re supposed to believe that, with a list of relationships as awful as these, it’s no wonder that Jane has taken up with the fictional Mr. Darcy. But as a whole, the list is too over the top to be believable, as are Jane’s expectations of these “boyfriends.”
Out of all the characters, though, I liked Jane the most. She was annoying at times but she could be funny. Mrs. Charming was the stereotypical older woman, desperate for love and attention. (I just saw that Jennifer Coolidge is playing Mrs. Charming in the film adaptation. Real original, people). Mrs. Wattlesbrook was mean and petty. She practically hated Jane just because she wasn’t rich. And of course, we have the prickly Mr. Darcy character played to a tee by Mr. Nobley. None of these characters were very likable or original.
I also had problems with Pembrook Park itself. I thought it was going to be a fun, themed vacation where Jane Austen enthusiasts came to feel a little closer to Austen and her books. Instead, it was a place where lonely women with money went to find some romance. Like Jane, I had a real problem reconciling what was real and what was just acting and, therefore, nothing seemed sincere. I am also just sick of all the movies and books that depict single, successful women as unsatisfied with their lives because they need a man/husband to make it complete. They will go to crazy lengths to find their happy endings and, and in this case, are willing to pay a large sum of money for just the illusion of it.
It’s funny that Jane goes to Pembrook Park to rid herself of her Darcy obsession. While she says that she has moved on and is ready to have a real relationship, she gets her happy ending with a man who is just like Mr. Darcy. In the end, I am not sure if she changes at all.
Katherine Kellgren narrates Austenland and, while it’s obvious that she is very talented, I wasn’t a huge fan of the audiobook. I think it’s because she has a tendency to do “voices” in her narration. She has an actual, distinct voice for each character. Unfortunately since I didn’t like any of the characters, the voices only added to my irritation, especially the snooty British ones. This is Kellgren’s fault but has more to do with my own issues with the book.
As you can see,. this book just wasn’t for me. If you’re looking for a light read and are a fan of chick lit, you may enjoy this. I’ve heard that Hale’s other books for children/YA are much better and I am willing to give them a try.