Wow! I just breezed through Austenland by Shannon Hale! I read the whole thing in one day. Granted, it's not a long book, but that's still fast for me. I'm a pretty slow reader. Getting back to the point, however, I read this book so fast because it was awesome. What a great way to kick off The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013!
Austenland is about a woman, Jane Hayes, in her thirties who is caught up in the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle miniseries version of Pride and Prejudice. She lives her life searching for "Mr. Darcy," although what she really wants is a modern gentleman who happens to be the essence of perfection. Her great-aunt dies and leaves her a fully-paid vacation to Austenland, which is a resort where women immerse themselves in an Austen-like world, complete with paid actors to play the roles of dutiful admirers. Jane decides to go in the hopes that "one last hurrah" will save her from her Darcy obsession.
I'll admit that I had to warm up to Jane, because I don't exactly relate to her. I'm not in my thirties; I'm not single; I've never had trouble establishing my independence from men; and Pride and Prejudice never encouraged in me a feeling of disappointment about my life. But I continued to read and soon found myself wrapped up in the world of the novel: 40% Austen, 30% Only You (1994 movie with Robert Downey, Jr. and Marisa Tomei--you should rent it), 20% realistic establishing of Jane's independence, and 10% Bridget Jones's Diary (2001 movie with Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, and Renee Zellweger--I'm not a big fan, but it has actors I like). I like books with fairly happy and open endings, which this novel has; they give the reader a chance to think forward and make decisions of what they think might happen in the future world of the story. Jane Hayes's character feels genuine, and although I don't relate to her personally, I understand her struggles to establish herself in one world while immersed in another. It's definitely worth reading at least once, and I'll be keeping it on my bookshelf in the living room. Also, if you're thinking of reading it for a book group, there's a reading group question guide in the book that might help out with that.
While we're on the topic of Pride and Prejudice, one of my friends gave my son (who is nine months old) Pride and Prejudice: A BabyLit Counting Primer by Jennifer Adams and Allison Oliver. I'm not counting it as one of my challenge items, obviously, but it's so adorable! Any fans of Jane Austen and/or P&P with babies at home should definitely find a copy of it. It's fun seeing how each number relates back to the story and puts little pieces of the Bennets' world into context for children. Anyway, Gabe (my son) loves it, so I have nothing but good things to say!