July 2007

A lively take on the ultimate classic

By Shannon Hale
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Books inspired by Jane Austen's novels are numerous—there are at least a dozen sequels to Pride and Prejudice alone, not to mention more loosely based adaptations like Bridget Jones' Diary—and an Austen biopic scheduled for release in August will doubtless spur even more homages to the beloved English writer. Should you be interested in this ever-growing genre, allow me to direct you to the best Austen tribute since Karen Joy Fowler's The Jane Austen Book Club: Shannon Hale's clever and imaginative Austenland.

New Yorker Jane Hayes is adamant that her obsession with a certain BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's most famous work has nothing to do with her inability to find lasting romance. And she's not at all embarrassed by the fact that after each  relationship ends, only multiple viewings of her trusty Pride and Prejudice DVDs will make things better. So unembarrassed, in fact, that she keeps them carefully cached in a neglected potted plant—until Great-Aunt Carolyn stumbles on them and calls Jane out on the dangers of letting dreams of Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy get in the way of true happiness. When Carolyn passes away six months later, she leaves a surprising legacy for her great-niece: an all-expenses-paid trip to Pembrook Park, an estate in Kent. There, Jane will spend three weeks living the Regency lifestyle, complete with corsets, empire-waist dresses, witty repartee and men in breeches.

Despite having resolved to embrace spinsterhood (and destroy her P&P DVD set) after her trip, Jane can't seem to avoid romance. A tall gardener and the inscrutable, slightly snobbish but nonetheless attractive Mr. Nobley show interest in her, but both are employees of Pembrook Park. Is either man revealing his true self?

Hale's charming first book for adults (she is also an award-winning young adult writer) is chick lit with soul. Though there's a laugh on nearly every page—Hale, like Austen, is adept at subtly skewering the ridiculous—there's also the more serious story of a woman learning the difference between fantasy and reality, and discovering that real life can be better than your dreams. Is there a better message for a summer read?

Trisha Ping received her first copy of Pride and Prejudice from her grandmother.


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By Shannon Hale
ISBN 9781596912854

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