Today, with much anticipation and even greater enjoyment, I read Austenland by Shannon Hale.
And, rather like my well-watched DVDs of the 1995 BBC/A&E version of Pride and Prejudice, I am looking forward to enjoying it all over again.
Is it because it's the best-written book ever? Probably not.
Is it because it's charming and fluttery and a frothy bit of wish fulfillment? You betcha.
Jane Hayes, single thirtysomething from NYC, is hopelessly infatuated with Mr. Darcy (as played by Colin Firth in the 1995 P&P). And with each failed actual romance, she drifts ever further into her fantasy world. When her great-aunt sniffs out Jane's obsession, poor Jane is left feeling as if she's been caught outdoors in her knickers. And when that great-aunt's legacy to Jane is an all-expense paid trip to Austenland, a three-week playacting/wish fulfillment place in England, Jane debates whether to go or not.
And I am so happy that she chose to go, where she exchanged her everyday panties for a set of cotton drawers, and traded her jeans for an empire-waist gown. Now known as Jane Erstwhile, she's expected to spend her time in character as a Regency era heroine, although with a comfy mattress and working bathroom facilities. Two other "young" ladies share the grounds with her, and at first, only two young men, but as time passes, a third joins as well. Jane spends time sorting out which Austen archetype each character is "playing," and finds her own affections torn between sanity, Mr. Nobley, and "Martin" the gardener.
Can Jane overcome her Darcy obsession once and for all? You'll have to read it (or rather, romp through it) yourself to find out. But I can tell you in all honesty that I adored this fun, funny book. Maybe even more than I liked the award-winning Princess Academy (I know! Shocking! Especially since this book is a grown-up romance novel!)
The best part? Teenage Hale fans can actually be let loose with this one, which, while not entirely chaste, is very nearly so. Will they get all the Austen references? Perhaps not. But the best part is, one needn't get the references in order to enjoy the very romantic plot of this novel.
I should note that Kirkus calls this "Mindless froth that Austen addicts will love." As if that's a bad thing.
Brava, Ms. Hale, brava!