Midnight in Austenland
by Shannon Hale
"'Have you been reading Gothic novels, Charlotte? You know what Mother would say. Women should not indulge in dark fantasies. It disrupts the proper workings of the womb.'
Charlotte snorted and coughed at once, she was so surprised. 'The proper workings of the womb?'
Eddie was trying very hard not to laugh. 'Indeed.'
'Never fear, protecting my womb from Gothic novels is my first priority.'
"I am very much relieved.'"
Charlotte Kinder has just gone through a messy divorce and needs to get away. She has no Jane Austen mania, like the Austenland heroine. She just needs a vacation from her life. So she decides to take it at Pembrook Park, the adult (no, not sexytime, just "for adults") roleplaying retreat manor house where actors and fellow guests leave modern society behind to live as Regency ladies and gentlemen. You can choose a new identity and be wooed by beautiful men and flounce around in lovely dresses. But when the games turn to ghost stories and murder mysteries, the line between reality and fiction blurs. Was that a real body in the attic, or just part of the fun?
This will be a short review, and please do not think it is short because I didn't like it. I loved this book! I devoured it in two days. I loved it more than Austenland. It seems much cleverer than the first book, for starters, both in narrative style and in plot.
For example, this little gem: "The pond lay dull and grey between the trees, no breeze to finger it's surface into uneasy ripples. The sky was clogged with clouds, preventing reflected sunlight from winking mischievously on the waves, as one might expect if the waters did indeed hide a secret. But the pond resisted all personification, neither begging for inspection nor warning of horrors best left alone. It just lay there, uninterested."
The prologue was a beautiful piece of writing. As this book is based on Northanger Abbey (as the first was based on Pride and Prejudice), Hale starts her book by explaining how her heroine is not a typical heroine. She was practical and nice, and never did anything unexpected or out of the ordinary. Even in this rather dull-sounding introduction, we manage to see ourselves in Charlotte. She is compelling in her normalcy. The book jumps back and forth between the past events that created Charlotte, and the present as Charlotte tries to solve the mystery of the house and, in the process, solve the mystery of why she is so....nice.
I also enjoyed this more than Austenland because our heroine is not incredibly neurotic and obsessive. I felt that was a little off-putting about the first book. She went to be cured of something and finds love. Charlotte goes to escape, and finds herself.
It is less a girlish fantasy and more an actual journey of finding inner strength. And it is incredibly sexy and dangerous and gasp-worthy! There is just enough levity, and just enough darkness to thrill you.