I technically finished reading Austenland: A Novel last Friday, but there were more interesting things to write about, so my review for it got pushed back until today.
I listened to the audiobook via OverDrive Media Console app, but I approached it with caution.
I love Shannon Hale as a writer (her Bayern books are fantastic!). But, I knew going into the book that Austenland was written in a different style and discussed a different topic than her usual fun-filled fairytales.
I wasn’t sure if I’d like it – especially because I could never bring myself to like Jane Austen. An entire book based on someone who loves Jane Austen didn’t sound nearly as much fun as a book based on a girl who can talk to the wind.
Still, I wanted to give Shannon a chance, and I listened to the whole thing.
A Brief Look At the Story
Jane Hayes is in love with Mr. Darcy. The Colin Firth Mr. Darcy. After several unsuccessful relationships, she’s sworn herself off men because (of course) no one could hold a candle to Mr. Darcy.
But, when her great aunt dies, Jane receives the ultimate present: an all-paid trip to Pembroke park, or “Austenland.” It recreates the world of Jane Austen, including actors dressed in Victorian era clothing.
Jane sees the trip as her “last hurrah” before going off men completely. She wanted to enjoy the experience fully, then she could swear off Mr. Darcy for good. What she didn’t expect was to fall in love . . .
I’ve never liked Jane Austen.
No matter how many times I read Pride and Prejudice for various English classes, I felt the story and the characters were stuffy and boring. And, I’m not a big fan of romance for the sake of romance. It’s OK to read romance if it’s part of a larger story (like in Confessions of a Shopaholic), but reading a romantic novel is exhausting for me.
I think because of this Austenland was doomed from the start.
My first thought about Jane Hayes was that she was man-hungry. No matter how much she swore off men, she still eyed them and thought about them constantly. It was like an alcoholic swearing off alcohol, only to go to a bar and think about how good a martini looked in someone else’s hand.
While I initially thought the setting of Pembroke park as adorable, it got old pretty fast – much like Austen’s books. The constant games of whist, the extensive meal times, and the hours of time spent doing essentially nothing made me want to fall asleep. Her little fling with the gardener seemed interesting at first, if only because it took Jane out of Austenland for a few minutes and back into the real world. But, that didn’t last long.
Mr. Nobley (Pembroke’s equivalent of Mr. Darcy) was stiff and not romantic at all. Jane’s interactions with him were pleasant enough, but undramatic and uneventful. I kept hoping Shannon Hale would add a new twist to Austen’s stuffy world, but it was all fairly predictable.
Does It Deserve a Banana Stamp?
I know a LOT of people enjoyed Austenland, but that’s probably because they like Jane Austen and romance.
I tried hard to like the book out of respect to the author, but no matter how hard I tried, I just didn’t love it as much as it deserved. I didn’t hate it – so I don’t feel like it deserves a full banana stamp, but then again, I don’t feel like it set itself apart enough to be worth recommending.
So… it gets a soft maybe stamp.
What About the Movie?
I watched Austenland when Chris was doing a closing shift at his work. I figured if it was a poorly done chick flick then at least he wouldn’t have to suffer through it. (I have such an awesome husband – he’ll watch a chick flick even though he hates them just so we can cuddle on the couch.)
I think the movie was better than the book, but only by a little.
Jane Hayes is portrayed as adorable and in love with Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy but doesn’t seem as man-hungry as she was portrayed in the book. Instead of her aunt leaving her the all-paid trip to Austenland, she spent her life savings on the “copper” package, just so she could enjoy the “life changing” experience.
The movie poked fun at how boring it is for women to sit and sew all day, and I especially liked how the paid actors didn’t take the situation too seriously (the men had an area where they sat back and relaxed before having to face the women again).
The cast was great, and I think Keri Russell was a perfect fit for Jane Hayes. She seemed more shy and quirky than obsessed, which is how I felt Jame should have been in the book. Having Bret McKenzie from Flight of the Conchords as Martin was an especially nice touch, as he’s a good balance of nerdy, cute, and awkward. (Seeing him garden with a set of headphones in his ears made the situation a little more realistic and lighthearted.)
Unfortunately, the movie was fairly predictable (like the book) and romantic events were so-so. Like the book, the few interactions Jane had in the movie with Mr. Nobley didn’t quite seem enough for them to build a relationship on. While cute, the movie seemed forgettable overall.
But, before you protest about my unfair assessment of the movie, I do have to say, Elizabeth Charming (Jennifer Coolidge) was hilarious. She played her role perfectly, and it added a lot of humor to the movie. I felt she picked up the slack in a lot of scenes and made it worth watching. She was crazy enough to be funny but not so weird that it crossed the line into annoying.
I didn’t hate Austenland. It wasn’t a bad movie.
But, like the book, I just couldn’t bring myself to like it as much as it deserved.
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