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The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. - Jane Austen

Review: Shannon Hale – Austenland

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Shannon Hale - AustenlandI guess that first I should admit that I started this book with very low expectations. After the last Austen-adaptation that I read (Death comes to Pemberley), I was expecting this one to be just as terrible. But actually, it was rather good.

The story revolves around a woman called Jane, living in New York, who has been hopelessly obsessed with Mr Darcy (as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation) for as long as she can remember. Every relationship she has fails because no guy can live up to her vision of the perfect Mr Darcy.

But when an elderly relative dies, she leaves in her will a trip to Austenland in England, a place where you are transported back in time to the beginning of the 19th Century, dressing like the characters from an Austen novel, and becoming fully immersed in that world, not even allowed to take your mobile phone with you. And as Jane soon realises, there are actors employed to play the part of other characters from the book, all picked to help you have the ‘perfect experience’.

But Jane isn’t their usual client. She’s only agreed to go in the hopes that she can rid herself of her Darcy obsession once and for all, whereas the usual clientele are there for a bit of fun away from their husbands. So Jane is surprised when rather than falling for one of the actors, she falls for the gardener, Martin. He’s like a breath of fresh air from the stuffiness and rules of the regency period, and they while away a few nights together watching NBA and drinking root beer. But alas, it looks like it’s not to be. At least the one thing that Martin has taught Jane is that she hasn’t given up on men completely, she just needs to find the right one.

Which she is confident will most definitely will not be Mr Nobley. He’s arrogant, surly and rude and she can’t seem to fathom him, thinking him not at all like Mr Darcy. But she seems to have forgotten that the Darcy at the start of Pride and Prejudice also appears to be surly and rude to dear Elizabeth, just remembering the Darcy nearer to the end that Elizabeth falls in love with (and most likely the Colin Firth Darcy that emerges from the lake).

So will Jane’s stay in Austenland end with her own Pride and Prejudice moment, or will the gardener Martin manage to win back her heart? And is everything quite as it seems? Have the lines between acting and real life become blurred? Well I won’t spoil it for you, but the ending was both a surprise and also exactly what I expected at the same time.

I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, which I initially only downloaded onto my Kindle because it was free. I’m very excited to find that there is a second book in the series (although it doesn’t look like it will be Jane as the main star). I’m also pleased to learn that they made this book into a film last year, and it comes out on DVD in a couple of months, it’s definitely one to watch. While I was reading the book, I pictured the character of Miss Charming as a rather buxom older blonde lady, and I was pleased to see that in the film the character is played by Jennifer Coolidge, who is exactly as I pictured the character in my head. Looks very promising to be a good film!

I’ll just leave you with my favourite quote from the book (although I won’t tell you who says it so that I don’t spoil the plot), it’s definitely enough to make any woman weak at the knees!

And if I don’t make you feel like the most beautiful woman in the world every day of your life, then I don’t deserve to be near you.

4/5

Review: P.D. James – Death Comes to Pemberley

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20131226-171215.jpgWell I had very high hopes for this book, but I should have known that I was never going to enjoy it. Pride and Prejudice is one of my favourite books of all time, and as promising as a sequel sounds, it was never going to live up to the brilliance of Austen.

But not only did this book not live up to expectations, it also made me shake my head in disapproval at some of the things that were happening or supposed to have happened in the six year gap between the end of Pride and Prejudice and the start of this book.

The thing that made me most annoyed was that James kept referring to the fact that Elizabeth only married Darcy for his money and the quality of the situation at Pemberley, at one point saying ‘Elizabeth knew she was not made for the sad contrivances of poverty’.

Well I always believed that Elizabeth was able to look through all Darcy’s supposed faults and his hard outer shell to fall in love with the person inside, and I didn’t like reading a book which suggested that their marriage was made from anything other than mutual love, affection and respect for each other.

The back of the book stated:

“The year is 1803, Darcy and Elizabeth have been married for six years, and the orderly world of Pemberley seems unassailable. But all this is threatened when, on the eve of the annual ball, a chaise appears, rocking down the path from Pemberley’s wild woodland. As it pulls up, Lydia Wickham Elizabeth’s younger, unreliable sister – stumbles out screaming that her husband has been murdered.”

This sounded pretty promising, I was not a fan of Wickham and as I knew that this was a murder novel, I was quite relieved that it wasn’t my beloved Elizabeth or Jane that were being knocked off. But alas, all was not as it seemed, and it was poor Denny who had bitten the dust. But with Wickham the prime suspect, all was still promising, but not for long.

The thing that I disliked most about the book was the amount of what seemed to me like filler, it took until about 80% through the book until the trial of Wickham, which then seemed incredibly rushed with a lack of detail. It was also written in modern language, rather than sticking to the beautiful, flowing language of Austen, although if James had attempted that, it may have made things worse.

As for the eventual revelation of the true culprit, I found it a strange choice of character. The motive, although fully explained at the end of the book, didn’t seem to tie in too well to the setting up of the story at the start, and was not what I would have picked if I had been writing this story.

I wanted to read this book before the BBC TV adaptation starts on the TV tonight, and while I’m glad I read it before watching it, and while I will still watch it to see what it’s like on the screen, I would rather have spent the last few days re-reading Pride and Prejudice.

1/5