Shannon Hale can tell a charming story, but reading about a divorcee flirting Austen-style is like watching the desecration of your favourite artwork.
Austenland – a holiday destination where people can go to dress up like Austen characters for a week or two – is a nice idea. But it hasn’t turned out well in this series for young adults.
There is no subtlety in the romance, once again we have a ‘heroine’ who isn’t anybody special, yet the guys come flocking. Add to that the jarring romantic twists that come out of the blue and you get an extremely unsatisfying romance. The heroine can insist all she likes that the developments feel ‘so right’, but the convoluted relationships are nothing like their Austen counterparts.
Mystery moved the plot along well, but the resolution was artificial and contrived. The twists were so unbelievable that at the end I wouldn’t have been surprised at anything. Just because a story is intended as a light, fun read doesn’t mean it has to throw credibility to the wind.
But it’s not just the mystery that is contrived. We also get a shallow, false view of parenting and family life, like a TV soap family whose dramas are easily resolved just because stories can say whatever you want.
Sadly, the only Austen elements were the cheap ones: the costumes, the attempt at the accents, the ‘brooding’, the ‘eye candy’, but where is her depth? Austen’s characters were rich and nuanced, her relationships complex. These shallow relationships – in spite of the unexpected twists – were based on post-divorce loneliness, physical attraction, the barest minimum of conversation and a few episodes of impossibly successful bravery… shake it together and you have everlasting true love.
The whole thing is an attractive concept – Austen is a worthy inspiration, but it’s extremely unsatisfying when only played on the surface.
Clare Cannon is the editor of www.GoodReadingGuide.com and the manager of Portico Books in Sydney.