Years ago I stumbled across a movie entitled Austenland starring Keri Russel, JJ Field, and Jennifer Coolidge. I like Keri Russel but I will stop everything for Jennifer Coolidge. The movie is an absolute delight and I highly recommend it (especially if you need a nice romantic escape right now). But, until very recently I had no idea at all that it was based on a book by Shannon Hale. A random tweet brought this to my attention! I had to get my hands on a copy and read it immediately! Happily, there are already two books based in Austenland and so I picked them both up.
AUSTENLAND: A NOVEL
Jane Hayes is a seemingly normal young New Yorker, but she has a secret: Her obsession with Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice is ruining her love life–no real man can compare. But when a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen fans, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become realer than she ever could have imagined.
Decked out in empire-waist gowns, Jane struggles to master Regency etiquette and flirts with gardeners and gentlemen-or maybe even, she suspects, with the actors who are playing them. It’s all a game, Jane knows. And yet the longer she stays, the more her insecurities seem to fall away, and the more she wonders: Is she about to kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own? from Amazon
Now, remember, I already saw the movie, bought the movie, rewatched the movie, made a friend watch the movie with me, and quietly watched it again before reading the book. When comparing books to movies, it is important to understand the order of consumption and the depth of devotion to a particular platform.
Since the screenplay was co-written by Shannon Hale it largely followed the movie. Still, there were many moments that were just so gorgeously written that didn’t completely transfer to the movie. Some of the lines Hale gives the delightful male characters should be etched in marble. Gorgeous and swoon-worthy. What this book did give that the movie really didn’t was Jane’s backstory and how her devotion to Darcy became so prominent in her life.
However, the book doesn’t have Jennifer Coolidge in it. In the movie, Jennifer’s part is that of a rich older woman named Ms. Charming, who is also visiting Austenland at the same time as Jane. The character is cute and over the top in the book but Coolidge’s performance, like many of hers, just steals the show. God bless Keri Russel because she seemed absolutely fine with having letting Coolidge take the audience’s attention every time.
Overall the book did what books do best – it gave me just a little more of the characters, their backstories, and their time together than the movie. Both were excellent and, happily, I had another Austenland story ready to go!
MIDNIGHT AT AUSTENLAND
When Charlotte Kinder treats herself to a two-week vacation at Austenland, she happily leaves behind her ex-husband and his delightful new wife, her ever-grateful children, and all the rest of her real life in America. She dons a bonnet and stays at a country manor house that provides an immersive Austen experience, complete with gentleman actors who cater to the guests’ Austen fantasies.
Everyone at Pembrook Park is playing a role, but increasingly, Charlotte isn’t sure where roles end and reality begins. And as the parlor games turn a little bit menacing, she finds she needs more than a good corset to keep herself safe. Is the brooding Mr. Mallery as sinister as he seems? What is Miss Gardenside’s mysterious ailment? Was that an actual dead body in the secret attic room? And-perhaps of the most lasting importance-could the stirrings in Charlotte’s heart be a sign of real-life love?
The follow-up to reader favorite Austenland provides the same perfectly plotted pleasures, with a feisty new heroine, plenty of fresh and frightening twists, and the possibility of a romance that might just go beyond the proper bounds of Austen’s world. How could it not turn out right in the end? from Amazon
Obviously there is no movie for this second book and perhaps that is part of why I found myself so completely enamored with the whole thing. Or, it might have been that there were layers of mystery and murder along with the truly spectacular romantic tensions. Either way, I was so pleased to see the return of Ms. Charming and a little more flamboyance in her character than in the first book.
Like me, Charlotte has come to understand Austen’s power later in life. When she finds herself at Austenland she is taking a much needed step away from the fallout of her divorce. Watching Charlotte remember herself through childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood while struggling to redefine herself on vacation at a place as ridiculous as Austenland was a wonder to behold. We are constantly trying to figure out who we are in the world aren’t we? Hale captured that imbalance and redefinition perfectly.
If you are looking for something to transport you away from the stress of the current COVID crisis, or if you just need a genuinely lovely romance in your day, I encourage you to pick up these two books. Midnight at Austenland especially was so perfectly plotted that I ignored every small thing that required my attention until I could finish the book. Don’t forget to watch the movie!
Tell me, please!
What is your favorite book and movie pairing?