Thursday, November 19, 2015

Audiobook Review: Can fantasy ever be real life?

Editor's Note: I have been reviewing audiobooks I listened to in the car while driving to and from residency interviews. You can find other installments here and here and hereA combined review can be found on the IPRH Reading Matters blog.

Shannon Hale, Austenland (2007)
I should probably confess upfront that I have never read a single book by Jane Austen. I did try one years ago, but I couldn't get into it. I have watched one of the movies--maybe Pride and Prejudice?--and then only once. So I am not exactly the demographic Shannon Hale (1974- ) had in mind when she wrote this little romantic comedy. Nevertheless, it charmed me. The story features a New Yorker in her early 30s who is obsessed with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 mini-series. Jane Hayes has had a series of failed relationships and contemplates swearing off men altogether when she inherits a dream vacation to an English resort that caters to romantic fantasies. After setting up the action, Hale intersperses the plot chapters with vignettes enumerating each boy and man who cheated on Jane, dropped her, or who could not live up to her idea of Prince Charming. Unsurprisingly, the narrative arc traces what I assume is a typical Austen novel, with the heroine learning about herself as she tries on a variety of suitors, finally and improbably but deliciously ending up with her nemesis-cum-secret-admirer.

Austenland Poster.jpgKatherine Kellgren reads this audiobook. She tended toward "breathy English romance," whereas I found Hale's writing to be wittier and more dryly American. There was at least one loose end Hale never tied up (it would give away too much to say what it was), but in general I found Austenland better written than your average rom-com. I think I will look for the sequel, Midnight in Austenland, as well as give the original novels another try.

The whole time I listened, I imagined what the book would look like on the big screen, so I was not at all surprised to discover that a movie version has already been made, starring Keri Russell. Austenland was released in 2013. In the name of research, I induced Dear Husband to watch it with me. The film is a tight 2 hours of giddy romance and slapstick based roughly on the book. It was sillier than the movies I usually like, and I was disappointed that they cut my favorite scene in the book. To my surprise, DH actually enjoyed it. Afterward, he said the best part was me interjecting the "reality" of the book into the movie, in which fantasy becomes reality in the end. 

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