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  • Hannah Fielding - Romance Novelist

From the blurb:

Jane is a young New York woman who can never seem to find the right man – perhaps because of her secret obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. When a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-obsessed women, however, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become more real than she ever could have imagined. Is this total immersion in a fake Austenland enough to make Jane kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?

No prizes for guessing why I bought this book to read and review! From the first line, I was smiling:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a thirty-something woman in possession of a satisfying career and fabulous hairdo must be in want of very little, and Jane Hayes, pretty enough and clever enough, was certainly thought to have little to distress her.

I loved the premise – a modern-day heroine plunged into Austen’s world – and I found it startlingly realistic (and rather appealing) to the point that I found myself, as I read, itching to click onto a search engine and see whether such full-immersion literary retreats actually exist in England. I imagine they do. I hope they do!

The writing is well-researched, fresh, original and colourful, with lovely descriptive touches, such as:

Some voices get hard and tight with age, some rough like broken glass. Her voice was soft sand beaten by waves till it’s as fine as powdered sugar.

I very much enjoyed the interweaving of classic English literature references, such as:

a comfortable-sized room with a canopied bed, baby blue walls, sparsely furnished, not gothic enough to tempt her to look for ‘Catherine Heathcliff’ engravings on the windowsill.

… and the author’s clear self-awareness of the Austen link throughout:

The chitchatted… Jane thought she understood why Austen often left these conversations up to the narrator and spared the reader the grotesquery of having to follow it word by word.

Occasionally, I wanted to feel a little more that the author had a sound understanding of England – sometimes a little detail jarred for me as not feeling authentic – but overall I think she does very well in situating the book in its English setting.

I loved the humour throughout, such as the interspersed recollections of Jane’s earlier, doomed, romances, and the ‘chicklit’ feel to some of the scenes. It’s a fun book, a happy and easy read, with plenty of heart-warming moments.

But don’t take that to mean this is a fluffy, irreverent book. In fact, I think the author is exploring a very real issue that hinders many modern-day women: getting stuck in fantasy, so that reality can never be enough. The author so beautifully encapsulates the struggle for a romantic in this modern world to find a happy-ever-after. For example:

At a very young age, she had learned how to love from Austen. And according to her immature understanding at the time, in Austen’s world there was no such thing as a fling. Every romance was intended to lead to marriage, every flirtation just a means to find that partner to cling to forever.

Through Austenland, we are able to really explore the fantasy of being Elizabeth Bennett, and we see both the wonderful side of that life, but also the downside (all the sitting about gets a little boring after a while, I must say). Ultimately, the ending is very satisfying, and the lead character, Jane, has been on an eye-opening journey and has finally tackled her Mr Darcy obsession.

Austenland is available now from Amazon; click on the book cover below to visit the store.

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