To finish or not to finish? A mini-review of the first half of Austenland

I grew up with the belief that one always finished reading a book once started. Always.

It was not until I was in my thirties that I was able to let that go — and by that time I had spent far too much time reading books I wasn’t really enjoying or appreciating in any kind of aesthetic way.  But it has been wonderfully freeing to realize that I can put a book done, half-read, 10 pages read, all but 5 pages read, and walk away.

Which brings us to Shannon Hale’s Austenland, a book I have been half-heartedly ignoring since it’s release in 2007. I was afraid it would be too chick-lit (which I have a bit of an allergy to), but I was eventually won over by the combination of Austen-themed anything and how much my daughter likes Hale’s YA books (particularly Princess Academy, which is not really how it sounds) when I saw the second book in the series, Midnight in Austenland at a used book sale. Wanting to read the first book first, I borrowed it from the library.

So.

Despite my earlier reluctance, I really want to like this book. I love the premise of it: a young-ish woman, obsessed with Austen (and Darcy in particular), goes to an “immersive Jane Austen experience” — a manor house where everyone dresses up in period costume and pretends that they are living in the early 1800s. Perfect, right?

In execution, however, the book is letting me down. I’m struggling to actually like the main character, Jane. Her supposed obsession with Darcy (of course, as portrayed by Colin Firth) doesn’t come across very well. She keeps saying how it’s ruining her life and such, but it just sounds to me like she needs to see a therapist.

The book’s jumping off point is that Jane is left the trip to Austenland in her great-aunt’s will. She’s not the “regular” Austenland visitor, we’re told. She feels like a fraud, like she can’t “pretend” to take part in the illusion, etc.

This must work for some people (the book was fairly popular and they made a movie of it), but I just find Jane annoying. I’m not even halfway through and I put the book down last night rather than keep reading. It’s not interesting, Jane isn’t compelling, she only whines about how everyone else fits in and she doesn’t. I just want to take her by the shoulders and say, let it go. Enjoy yourself. Go along with the rules, because in this case, the rules are there for fun. That’s the point.

Presumably, something will change to get the story going (I hope?), but I’m a good third of the way through the book and nothing so far. Jane continues to complain about the other people there and resisting actually enjoying herself. (But then, since she doesn’t enjoy herself  in her regular life, this should come as no surprise.) She has sought out the gardener (where he is watching tv and such), because he is obviously being set up, at least to begin with, as her Darcy (is this supposed to be surprising or faux-scandalous in the context of Austenland? it’s just a yawn for me).

Will I keep reading? I just don’t know. I am vaguely curious about this will resolve. Interestingly, the sequel (Midnight in Austenland, which does not have a wikipedia page) sounds quite different based on the flap blurb. There is a different main character who is visiting Austenland and there appears to be more content to the story (mysterious happenings and such). That sounds a bit more compelling.

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