Saturday, June 06, 2009

Austenland

Rebecca Traister wrote an article for Salon a couple of years ago about the new surge of books about or Jane Austin and the Austen-verse, and people who want to live in it. Most of them start with some variation of the phrase It is a truth universally acknowledged and ends with a young woman finding love in her own "Mr Darcy" - a man that at first seems aloof and snobby, but it turns out he's really dreamy and loyal and kinda shy. Traister reminds us that, 200 years ago, the game was less about finding romance and more about desperately securing a deal that would leave women financially solvent before it was too late.

I haven't actually read much Jane Austen - I'm half-way through Pride and Prejudice now, and, I'm finding her absolutely hilarious. So far, I love it. I hate to pretend like I know that much about her work, although I am a big fan of several off-shoots - Bridget Jones's Diary, Colin Firth and the BBC version.

I picked up Austenland for my sister, who's something of a Janeite, but, it called out to me too, and I read it myself. Shannon Hale's book (here's the first chapter) is about a young woman who goes to something of a Jane Austen theme park, wherein she visits a big Regency house in England for a couple of weeks and dresses and eats and sits quietly and attempts to sew and play the piano while wooed by a couple of actors who pretend to be characters from the books.

For the most part, I found it enjoyable but light reading. I think Hale tried a little too hard to make her Jane an unwilling participant in her own vacation. She goes to some convoluted lengths to show that Jane, who's hung up on the concept of Mr Darcy (more like Colin Firth) is just going along with everything in order to finally purge her Darcy fantasy forever. That was a bit of a stretch that I think could have been easily cleaned up. The bits about her history of bad boyfriends were pretty funny. One of the first things that happens to her in Austenland is that her body literally aches from lack of exercise - it reminds me of a line from a Jane Austen movie where two women take a short walk around a room and one proclaims, "This is SO refreshing!" A line me and said sister like to shout at each other, usually when we're in a pool, cocktail in hand.

I'm going to turn back to the real Austen and then probably uh, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

2 comments:

KHM said...

Ummm...just my opinion but read one Austen novel and you've read them all. Doesn't mean it isn't a hell of a good book but enough is enough...

Becky K said...

I love Pride & Prejudice. I resisted reading it for a long long time, but I didn't have any good reason. I've reread it a few times now, and watched some of the movie versions. I love the Kiera Knightly one; the music is superb, and the way they filmed it is just amazing. You can't really go wrong with Austin, it seems. You'll have to let us know what you think of the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I just don't know if I can do it!