A friend whose book-sense I trust asked me Sunday if I had read Austenland. I said no, but replied that now I'd gotten a taste for Shannon Hale I wanted to get my hands on more of her stuff and that Austenland had been on the to-do list for a while. She shook her head saying that she couldn't get through more than half of it, thought it was intensely boring and could hardly believe it was the same author.
Still, just the title was too appealing for me to give it a pass, so yesterday I read it in one sitting (or as much as a mother of three CAN read anything in one sitting). I did not think it was intensely boring, and Hale's voice, her wit and her charm was just as distinctive as in the last book I read. The common thread in both Austenland and in Goose Girl is this idea of looking in a mirror and wondering who exactly is looking back at you. This is never more apparent than in perhaps my favorite moment in the book. (CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD)
Jane Hayes has gone to a place where fantasies play out, but unlike the other women present, she is unable to completely lose herself in the role-playing. Even as she tries to "catch" various suitors, she knows it is all pretend and can't quite figure out which Jane she is the most often, or even which one she likes the best. She finally convinces the most Darcy-esque of the actors to fall for her. (Or does she? Does he? Isn't it all pretend?) During the ball, with various desperate older ladies fawning all over him, he grabs our intrepid heroine's arm (not the first time he has done this) and pulls her into a small room off the ball room. After some pacing, during which he looks all sexy and tortured,
"He wildly combed his hair with his fingers. 'I can't bear to be out there with you right now, all those indifferent people watching, admiring you, but not really caring. Not as I do.'
"Jane: (hopeful) Really?
"Jane: (practical) Oh, stop that.
"Mr. Nobley sat in the chair beside her and gripped its arm.
"Jane: (observant) This man is all about arm gripping."
Re-creating the punctuation in the above passage is awkward, but if you followed, you see that Jane didn't actually SAY any of these things, though she could have said any one of them and been perfectly herself. He then professes his love, she sees the ridiculousness of it all (or does she?) and refuses him. Walks away. Knowing that for once and for all she is over the Darcy-fetish. Yeah right.
So while I really liked much about this book, at the end she gets the man that you knew from the opening scenes that she had to get all along. For a moment, Hale makes the reader believe that it will not work out that way and it will still be okay, but I was feeling a bit cheated until about nine pages from the end until Hale, of course, righted everything. And though the book is supposed to be all about coming to terms with what is real and imaginary(?), in the end, she does get "Mr. Darcy." And what does he sweetly reply to her protestations that it had all been fake? "We are cast as actors that are closest to the parts we play, since we had to stay in character so long." Ah ha! So he is Henry Jenkins and Mr. Nobley and Mr. Darcy all at once! Lucky girl.
In those last nine pages, he says some intensely beautiful things to her, and this time we are to believe that they have moved from scripted to un-scripted, but you just know that Hale poured over this dialogue for a long time to get it just right. People don't just say things off the cuff like this: I'm throwing myself at your feet because I'm hoping for a shot at forever, have you stopped to consider that in fact you are my fantasy, etc. And don't even get me started on the kissing that Hale so perfectly describes.
Anyway, for a book whose jacket claims to be about a woman learning to separate fantasy from reality, our main character only gets about 10 minutes to decide she can do that before fantasy-man walks right into her life. And true to the Darcy Effect, he is giving up everything for her, stepping on the plane with nothing but a vest and cravat. Oh, and we assume he has a passport.
Like Mr. Darcy and Miss Jane, this plain governess once found herself looking into a pair of fine eyes and falling in love against her will. The night before our wedding, my delicious Gardener gave me two things: a beautifully huge hammock and the Complete Works of Jane Austen. (I refrained from tearing right into it shouting, "Jane Austen! Your works complete me!") I've always loved that gift. I think, in his way, that Plantboy was telling me that he knew he wasn't the Perfect Man I had long dreamed of, but that he would never begrudge my escape with my books as long as I came back to him at the end of the day--refreshed and ready for another round of reality.