Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Austenland, by Shannon Hale

I have avoided most of the Jane Austen "spin-offs" that have been popular in the past several years, but my son described Austenland as a spoof or send-up on the cult of Jane Austen, so I thought it might be fun. (I confess I have a bit of a tendency toward the Firth-mania form of the disorder; in 2004 when George W. Bush was reelected, the only thing I could think of to cheer myself up was watching the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice--unfortunately, not even Colin was up to the monumental task.)

Austenland is the story of Jane Hayes, a 32-year-old graphic artist with a string of failed relationships behind her and a fantasy that she will find her own Mr. Darcy. Her elderly aunt, sensing that this fantasy is preventing Jane from living her life, bequeaths her a trip to an English manor house where actors do their best to persuade lonely Austen-obsessed women that they are as irresistible as Elizabeth Bennett was to Darcy. Jane sees the trip as a form of therapy but soon finds herself trying to figure out whether the interests of two male "characters" are sincere. The story of her adventure is intercut with descriptions of her past boyfriends and how their relationships ended.

Hale certainly does mock the Austen-obsessed and, more broadly, the business of leisure activities based on reenacting the past. Sadly, I did not find her satire either funny or particularly pointed.  Perhaps it goes without saying that Hale's writing lacks the skill Austen wielded--her characters lack charm and authentic pride (or is it prejudice?), her dialogue lacks the wit of Austen's,  Furthermore, she follows the one aspect of Austen's writing that I do not like--ending the satire of courtship mores with a happy coupling of the female protagonist and a stereotypically stiff-upper-lip Brit.

Not recommended.

Favorite passage:
Why was the judgment of the disapproving so valuable? Who said that their good opinions tended to be any more rational than those of generally pleasant people?

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