1 Rated Books Book Reviews

Austenmania! Book Review: Austenland by Shannon Hale

It’s Austenmania! Today we do a little homage to the queen of Historical Romance herself, the indomitable Jane Austen. With a twist – both books we are reviewing take Jane Austen in the modern era, either in spirit (literally), or in form…

Title: Austenland

Author: Shannon Hale

Genre: Chick Lit

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Publishing Date: May 2007
Paperback: 208 pages

Stand alone or series: Stand alone

How did I get the book: Bought

Why did I read the book: I was in the mood for a light romance Jane Austen-style

Summary: Jane Hayes is a seemingly normal young New Yorker, but she has a secret. Her obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, is ruining her love life: no real man can compare. But when a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become realer than she ever could have imagined.

Decked out in empire-waist gowns, Jane struggles to master Regency etiquette and flirts with gardeners and gentlemen—or maybe even, she suspects, with the actors who are playing them. It’s all a game, Jane knows. And yet the longer she stays, the more her insecurities seem to fall away, and the more she wonders: Is she about to kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?


It is a truth universally acknowledged that I am always in the lookout for a good book. Unfortunately Austenland was not one of them and the more I think about it, the less I like it.

Jane Hayes is a 32 year old, successful graphic designer living in New York who has a dirty secret: her obsession with Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen in all its forms but most especially with the BBC adaptation that has Colin Firth as Mr Darcy. To Jane, no one can measure up to Mr Darcy, not one of her former 13 boyfriends did, no one never will and this is why she decided not to date anymore. Why bother, right?

Then one day her rich aunt dies and leaves her an all-inclusive, paid for, holiday to an exclusive place called Austenland (the place is so exclusive, it doesn’t even have a website and it doesn’t show up when you Google it). Catering to a special clientele (to wit: rich, unhappy women), Austenland is the place where obsessive fans of all things Regency and Jane Austen-y go to live their fantasies: for three weeks, they immerse themselves in 19th century without any technology living as an unmarried young miss would live back them. Even if you happen to be a 50 year old woman, Austenland allows you to pretend to be a 20 year old looking out for the dream of being wooed by a Mr or a Lord (all the male in Austenland are actors playing a role). All visitors must agree with the terms and conditions which include confidentiality and to behave as though you are a regency miss, following all the rules of engagement. Any breech of these rules and the person is subject to be sent away, without refund.

Jane decides to take on the offer as means to say goodbye to her obsession. She will go, enjoy the three weeks and then say goodbye forever to the dream of Mr Darcy. Once there though, she gets a bit sidetracked by Martin the gardener, and by Mr Nobley, the Mr Darcy in this farce.

I am fully aware that Austenland is supposed to be a light, romantic comedy, a beach read, mindless entertainment and perhaps not be taken too seriously. But I think that this is actually a pernicious, dismissive way of looking at a genre, any genre as it excuses any number of flaws in plotting and character development. I also think that being entertained is good obviously; but “mindless” is not the same thing as “brainless” nor does it excuse lack of coherency and bad writing.

And I do think that Austenland suffers of all the above which was a major surprise to me as I know that Shannon Hale is a damn good writer. But the writing here is choppy and inconsistent. The narrative is weird, with the narrator sometimes interrupting the narrative to say things like “but Jane doesn’t want to think about it, so let’s move on” . But the main problem to me here is how Jane is so inconsistently written as to almost come across as an imbecile.

I don’t even know where to start with her character. Maybe with the fact that she keeps her DVDs of Pride and Prejudice hidden away because she is ashamed of them. Why would a supposedly intelligent woman do that? It is a highly acclaimed production of a well-know novel by the BBC. In the words of HBO: it is not TV, it is the BBC! Come on.

Then there is the fact that Jane has put herself on the shelf because her relationships have not worked so far. But she counts all the men she has met, dated once or twice as “boyfriends” because she is incapable of taking things lightly and flirty. Every man she meets is a potential husband and one of the first questions that occurs to her is : does he like children. She is intense and overeager. I absolutely abhor female characters that are written to define themselves by the number of boyfriends they had – and this is exactly what Jane does. She is never her own woman – she is always in relation to someone – and this is never challenged in any way.

Once she arrives in Austenland, the story is a rollercoaster of ups and down inside Jane’s mind: she is repulsed and attracted to the idea of Austenland. She just wants to have fun. She wants to use it as therapy. She doesn’t fit it, so she has a fling with the gardener. But she can’t have “fling” but OH MY GOD , she so can. She is changed! But no, she is the same. She will enjoy this and immerse herself and ooooooooo Captain East is attractive! She HATES Mr Nobley but wait. If Mr Darcy was like this, he must have been really obnoxious. But wait, she loves Mr Nobley.


The other characters are not fleshed out enough and the attempt of being as witty as the original was a major fail. Austenland, the place, although a cool idea to start with, comes across, the more you read, as a place non-different from a brothel given as how the actors have to romance each of the ladies because this is what they are paying for. The very idea is sadly pathetic and desperate. And I can’t, I am afraid, take it lightly and just have fun with it.

I am not sure what Shannon Hale tried to accomplish here. At points I could see the start of a criticism about the whole pretence and the place but it never lasted. Jane tries to get rid of her obsession with finding a Mr Darcy but the ending of the novel only reaffirms it.

This was definitely not the book for me. We (the book and I) did not click. To the point where I can hardly find anything positive to say and the only thing I can think of is how it was a waste of money and time. Jane Hayes is no Lizzie Bennet. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Austeland is what Pride and Prejudice would be like with Lydia as a protagonist[1. ETA: In the ensuing years, I have examined this take on Lydia. I take it back but I can’t change the review because I can’t change who I was when I wrote it.]

Notable quotes/ Parts: I will just skip this part

Verdict: A chick lit that reinforces all the stereotypes of the genre. I would give this one a pass.

Rating: 1 – I want my money back!

Reading Next: Something good, please.

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  • Stephanie
    October 15, 2009 at 3:38 am

    Sounds like you are in want of a good book!! Sorry this one didn’t work out for you. I used to read a lot of the “fluff” that is considered Chick Lit. And I liked it then. But most of it annoys me now, aside from a few authors, like Jennifer Weiner, that seem to be a step above everyone else. It’s almost too mindless. God, does that mean I’m growing up??

  • Leeann Burke
    October 15, 2009 at 4:13 am

    Sorry to hear you didn’t like this one. I have a teenage cousin who is in love with anything Jane Austen. I had hoped this would be a good one of her. Can you recommend anything?

  • KMont
    October 15, 2009 at 6:31 am

    Good grief, this sounds like a total disaster. And you read it all? You, my dear, suffer for your blog.

    The idea that any woman would be ashamed of loving Jane Austen’s work or any of the resulting movies is absurd.

  • janicu
    October 15, 2009 at 6:53 am

    I liked this one, but yeah you really have to check the disbelief at the door in order to enjoy it, so not completely shocked it didn’t work for you. The unsteady wishy-wash on what the main character was getting from the experience was something I think I’d like a stronger view on (and was the weakest part of the book), but the whole idea of such a place is pretty out there. If you can accept the existence of “Austenland” for the duration of the story then it may work out better.

  • Diana Peterfreund
    October 15, 2009 at 7:40 am

    I haven’t read this book so I cannot comment on it directly.

    However, as a chick lit author, I get so annoyed with the assumption that the genre is brainless. No, our books are not supposed to be difficult reads. No, we’re not curing cancer. Yes, it’s supposed to be light entertainment. But I take a lot of care crafting my characters, dialogue, plot, etc. Just because something is fun or even easy doesn’t mean it wasn’t carefully constructed to be so.

    Was it Nathaniel Hawthorne who said easy reading is damn hard writing?


  • Serena (Savvy Verse & Wit)
    October 15, 2009 at 8:01 am

    This book had a ton of problems, but read quickly for the most part. It is not my favorite and I hated that the character’s notions were reaffirmed by the end. She was not a strong female character at all.

  • AnimeJune
    October 15, 2009 at 8:30 am

    My mother suggested this to me and now I’m glad I never took her up on it!

    From what I can gather from your awesome review, it sounds like the marvelous “Lost in Austen” miniseries has the same idea but accomplishes it SO MUCH BETTER – where a woman who’s obsessed with P & P ends up accidentally switching places with Elizabeth Bennet – with hilarious plot-changing results.

    For anyone who’s interested in “Austenland,” I think I’ll just suggest “Lost in Austen” instead.

  • Zee
    October 15, 2009 at 8:37 am

    I’m a total lurker, but I feel compelled to comment for two reasons:

    1) I completely agree with the review. I didn’t really like and couldn’t care about the characters; the plot was silly; and the romance was unbelievable (and not in a good way). It was in no way comparable to any of Ms. Austen’s works, even as a light-hearted, funny send up. On a positive note, it read quickly (not too much time lost); I checked it out from the library (no $$ lost) and I can barely remember it a couple of months later (no brain cells lost).

    2) I have to chime in to support Ms. Peterfreund and her kind of chick lit. I know this blog is already a fan of her work (I got the rec from here and from Angieville) and I finally followed through and read the Secret Society Girl series. All four books. In one weekend. And I am re-reading them all again now. I love them that much. The books are truly fantastic: wonderful characters, interesting plot, and fascinating setting. So if it’s chick lit – I’m all for it.

    To be frank, I get fairly confused and annoyed by genre classifications anyway – a good book transcends all category (as does a bad book). We’ve all read fantastic and substandard books in every genre, I’m sure.

    So, to sum up: Austenland – substandard chick lit
    Secret Society Girl Series – freakin’ fantastic, transcendental chick lit (puts the “chick” in “lit”?)

    Ok, done with fangirl squee now…Guess I should lurk less and comment more often so I’m not so long-winded when I do…

  • Ana
    October 15, 2009 at 8:39 am

    Anime June – YES, I was going to mention Lost in Austen which I LOVE LOVE LOOOOOOOOOOVE in my additional thoughts but Thea is already doing that in her review later today :mrgreen:

    Serena – yes, exactly.

    Diana – I couldn’t agree more. I hate when people equals light entertainment with not being worthy of being properly reviewed and analysed.

    Janicu – Wishy-wash is a damn fine word for what went on. 😀

    Kmont – I am a survivor. 😆 8)

    Leeann – I have yet to read a GOOD reimagining of Jane Austen. So I would stick to the originals.

    Stephanie – I am not having a good week. 🙁

  • Diana Peterfreund
    October 15, 2009 at 8:48 am


    Not even Clueless? or Bridget Jones?

  • Ana
    October 15, 2009 at 8:55 am

    Holy moses Diana, I completely forgot about those! I love both Clueless and Bridget Jones Diary! And Bride and Prejudice!

    I had in mind all of the latest like P&P and Zombies…..but yes for those.


  • AnimeJune
    October 15, 2009 at 9:02 am

    Ana –> there’s even a Mormon re-imagination of Pride and Prejudice, although I can’t remember the title right now. I think, with some exceptions, that people should just leave Austen well enough alone. It’s all starting to smack of published fan-fiction to me.

    I had to review “An Assembly Such as This” and “Duty and Desire” – books that told P & P from Darcy’s POV (apparently his POV is worth a trilogy while Lizzie’s granted only one book, oh well) and they were just silly (Darcy has to face off against an Irish witch. Yes, I’m serious).

  • Diana Peterfreund
    October 15, 2009 at 9:13 am

    Oh, wow, Zee, I just saw your comment. Thanks for reading! I’m glad you enjoyed them!

    Phew, Ana. I’m glad. I think I’d have to cut your blog out of my life if you bashed Clueless. Also mumblemumblesecretsecretmumble.

  • Ana
    October 15, 2009 at 9:17 am

    GAAH! 👿

  • katiebabs
    October 15, 2009 at 9:50 am

    Why would any woman want to hide her P&P dvd’s?? I would have them out and be proud of it.

    But it is hard to find a man worthy of Colin Firth or Matthew Macfayden’s portrayal of Darcy.

    Mr Nobley? That is an interesting name. O.o

  • Angie
    October 15, 2009 at 9:59 am

    Yeah, I hear ya, Ana. All I can say is it’s a good thing you haven’t read Hale’s ACTOR AND THE HOUSEWIFE. I’m only just recovering and it’s been ages since I threw the damn thing against the wall.

    I hate to say it, but I think her YA stuff is excellent and beautifully written. But I haven’t been enchanted with her adult works At All.

  • Adrienne
    October 15, 2009 at 11:50 am

    I’m sure Austen is rolling in her grave-really, Darcy had to fight a witch (previous poster)??? This is why I don’t read chick lit (even on bad PMS, my pants are to tight days) did I act like a crazy woman- Someone stop this madness 😯

    Ya-what woman would hide those DVD’s? I have the VCR tapes, DVD (both movies) and 4 copies of the book 😆

  • Harry Markov
    October 15, 2009 at 11:54 am

    That was one powerful axe. 🙂 I like you bashing novels. *grin*

  • Stacey Kade
    October 15, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    Have you tried Mr. Darcy’s Diary by Amanda Grange? I read that one last year and enjoyed hearing the Pride and Prejudice story from his side, including the things we heard about in P&P but never saw “on screen.” 😀

  • Llehn
    October 16, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    I love Shannon Hale but I am beginning to wonder if I should read any of her adult books. I read The Housewife and The Actor recently and was in a murderous rampage afterward! I mean what happened to the woman who wrote Goose Girl and Book of A Thousand Days? I’ll probably be skipping this one as well because I’ve heard similar complaints from other blogs.

  • Kay @ Infinite Shelf
    October 17, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    Great review – but so sorry you didn’t enjoy the book!
    I used to love chicklit as a mindless read I would consume in stressful times, but lately there have been very few authors of the genre I enjoyed. I think you were right on point for many books of the genre when you said : ““mindless” is not the same thing as “brainless” nor does it excuse lack of coherency and bad writing”.

  • pens
    December 14, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    ITA with this review-it seemed to bne written for 11 year old.

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