Review: Austenland, by Shannon Hale

What our American protagonist quaintly references as “Austenland” is in fact a Janeite’s wet-dream-like summer-camp for adults. Very wealthy women spend oodles of money (in our narrator Jane Hayes’ case she has been gifted this one-of-a-kind experience) to stay on what looks like a Regency-era estate, wearing Regency dress, living what feels like a Regency life for a few weeks, getting thrown together with actors as well as other paying customers, vying for the attentions of the Bingley/ Darcy/ Wentworth/ Brandon/ Knightley-like men (actors), all by the light that should be oil or gas-lit, but is instead plugged into a wall socket.

As you would expect in this kind of chic-lit, our Jane Hayes is having kind of a mid-life crisis at 33 – unmarried, without prospects. So this kind of vacation is a release for her – she plans to give up men entirely once she’s had her go at the 19th century. But things, of course, don’t necessarily go as planned. She puts her life back into perspective (which is not hard when the other “guest” is an overweight 50-year-old with bad hair, overabundant boobage, stubby fingers, and a disturbing fascination with British colloquialisms.)

As chic-lit goes, Austenland is surprisingly sedate and, even more surprisingly, kind of believable. We trust the author to give us realism and honesty when she admits that her top-secret über-expensive Regency summer camp is full of cheats, tricks and not-so-discrete diplomacy. Look at it this way: if J.K. Rowling revealed that Hogwarts’ ghosts ran on batteries, that the brooms were flown on strings, and that there was a secret teachers’ lounge (Room of Requirement, anyone) where Sprout, Dumbledore and Trelawny were all kickin’ back, smoking joints and kvetching about their idiot students…you might believe it was real, too.


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