Review: Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale

6

March 12, 2012 by Heidi

Book cover of Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale

Title: Midnight in Austenland [Amazon|GoodReads]
Author: Shannon Hale [Website|Twitter|Facebook] 
Standing: Stand alone, companion novel to Austenland.
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Romance
Published: January 31st, 2012 by Bloomsbury USA
Format: Kindle edition.
Source: ARC from publisher via NetGalley.

It turns out that it’s not always safe to think things alone to oneself, even at midnight.

Charlotte is an overbearing mother of two, a divorcee, and hopelessly in need of a getaway.  When she is reminded of a goal to read Austen, she picks up the books, and finds herself yearning to escape into the Regency world.  After too many blind dates, she determines she owes herself a break.  Charlotte sets up a vacation at Pembrook Park, leaves her kids with their unfaithful father, and heads to England to immerse herself in Austenland.  Pembrook Park offers more than she expected, however, when mysteries begin rippling to the surface.  What is a part of the game, and what is real?  Who is real?

If you pick up Midnight in Austenland because you read and loved Austenland, and are hoping for another taste, you’re picking it up for the wrong reason.  And you’re probably going to be disappointed.  Luckily, I am here to prepare you (as this review at Janicu’s Book Blog prepared me) so that you can get through Midnight in Austenland with a smile on your face and a song in your heart (or something marginally less cheesy that equates to actual enjoyment of this book).

If Pride and Prejudice was the main inspiration for Austenland, Midnight in Austenland was inspired by darker Gothic tales like Rebecca, The Haunting of Hill House, Jane Eyre, Agatha Christie, and of course, Northanger Abbey.  I actually appreciate that Hale decided to highlight one of Austen’s works that gets far less attention.  Sure, Northanger Abbey isn’t everyone’s favorite, it certainly isn’t mine, but Midnight in Austenlandhelps to remind us that there are very different women out there, with different interests, personalities, and life experiences that mold them.

I had a difficult time identifying with Charlotte, but I do believe many women out there will feel a bond with her.  Charlotte is in her mid-30s, and while she is a successful and savvy business woman, her personal life is a wreck.  Her husband, the father of her two children, has left her for some trollup named ‘Justice’ (seriously people, if you don’t want your kids to be a self-fulfilling prophecy/hypocrisy, don’t give them a quality as a name), and she can’t help but butt into her children’s lives inappropriately for worry of them.  Her confidence is crushed.  Like too many women who get treated poorly by the men they love, Charlotte blames herself, certain she is defective in some way and afraid to open up to anyone.  Where Jane, our heroine in Austenland, knew the etiquette and was able to present herself with an earnest wit and ease, Charlotte is constantly self-conscious and stumbling, screaming at her inner self to be better in some way.  Let’s put it this way: Charlotte is so sensitive and self conscious that she made it a point to never go to the same gynecologist twice.  If that doesn’t tell you something about this woman, I don’t know what will.

Like its predecessor, Midnight in Austenland is more about the growth of the main character than about the plot.  While Austenlandwas primarily a romance, this new offering holds more mystery and intrigue (but yes, there is some romance too!).  Like any good mystery, there are multiple questions and story lines that must be tied up and answered.  Due to the setting, it becomes necessary to try to separate the fiction from the reality, and as such I found Midnight in Austenlandto be much less predictable than I would have surmised.

All in all, I thought Midnight in Austenland was a charming and true coming of middle-age story.  After all:

Jane Austen had created six heroines, each quite different, and that gave Charlotte courage.  There wasn’t just one kind of woman to be.

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:  I’ve started in on Hale’s works for younger readers now (listening to The Princess Academy), but I would love suggestions of good modernized Austen retellings or Austen-esque books!  

Recommended for:  Northanger Abbeyfans, those who enjoy Agatha Christie, or a little mystery with their romance.

Real life repercussions of reading this book: I totally read like Eddie!  I literally will cover a page with my hands to avoid reading ahead at critical moments.  What about you?

“What about you, Eddie?” Charlotte asked.  “Do you take a peek to the last page?”  

“Never.  I cover the right page while I read the left, lest I accidentally read ahead.  I am a slave to the story.  So long as a book is not trying to be useful or pontificate at me tirelessly, I am its willing servant.”

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6 comments »

  1. janicu says:

    Glad I helped you out with your expectations for this one!Oh, and I peak at the last page. :) Not always, but in the books I'm really worried that things are going to go pear-shaped and that I'll be mad. This is probably why I haven't thrown a book at a wall in a realllly long time. I can't seem to do it as easily with an ebook though. Ebooks keep me a bit more honest.

  2. Heidi says:

    I was really glad I read your review! Knowing what to expect made it so that I actually liked this book, otherwise, I probably wouldn't have even finished it.I don't know how you can do that! I guess it does help with not throwing books at walls (another thing made inconvenient by e-books)…I despise having anything ruined though. Even if something is just alluded to I get upset. My boss did this for me with Downton Abbey and I had such a hard time not chewing her out for saying ANYTHING about an episode I'd told her I hadn't watched.

  3. Allison says:

    I'm glad you payed it forward and gave me the warning – I plan on reading this fairly soon and I definitely won't be expecting Austenland II when I do so.

  4. Heidi says:

    You're welcome! I hope you enjoy it. It was a fun read, but if I had gone in expecting a light romance I would have been really put off.

  5. Melanie says:

    I'm glad I read this! I was expecting a light hearted sequel to Austenland. I don't read like Eddie, but I might start; I'm terrible at peaking ahead at pivotal moments. So much temptation.

  6. Heidi says:

    Haha, my eyes end up slipping more often than I'd like. I HATE knowing what's coming. I once cried for like 2 hours because my brother told me what he got me for Christmas before I opened it.Glad to help though! I did enjoy Midnight in Austenland, but it is a very different read.

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While the source for each book I review is posted within its review, please assume unless otherwise stated that books reviewed on Bunbury in the Stacks were received free from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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