Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale

The sequel to Austenland by Shannon Hale is Midnight in Austenland.  No, this isn't just the same story read in the middle of the night- it is much more fun than that.  Midnight in Austenland is set once again at Pembrook Park, the English manor that plays host to women with Jane Austen fixations.  We all love Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, but those are both very much novels for a spring day.  Northanger Abby and Mansfield Park contain a bit more mystery and may be better suited for a cold rainy night.  Midnight in Austenland attempts to bring those same feelings to the ladies on holiday at Pembrook Park.

Charlotte Kinder is a clever woman struggling with her recent divorce.  A woman of independent means, she travels to the exclusive Austenland to escape herself and to become immersed in Jane Austen's world.  "Things prove rough for our heroine.  Her only hope was Jane Austen."  Oh, the ills that a Jane Austen novel can comfort!

During her orientation at Pembrook Park, Charlotte is determined to choose Mrs. Charlotte Cordial as her name.  This is unusual since most of the guests are single thus adding to the potential for romance.  Charlotte insists upon this as she cannot imagine herself as anything but a mother, her concession, however, is that she is a widow.  To Mrs. Wattlesbrook, the proprietress of Pembrook Park, she explains, "Yes, my husband died tragically.  It was a gruesome and exceedingly painful demise."  Mrs. Wattlesbrook did not look unamused, as if she herself had experience with a difficult husband.

The humor abounds through this book.  Like it's predecessor, Midnight plunges the reader into the customs and manners of the Regency period.  Unlike Austenland, this novel's main focus is not romance or the avoidance of such, but rather a gripping murder mystery.  The conundrum is this: what is real and what is only pretend?  Is it all part of the game, or was that really the hand of a dead man Charlotte saw in the attic? 

Sequels do not always live up to the original, especially when new characters are involved.  This one, however, may be even better than the first.  Do read it, won't you?  And if you do, perhaps you, too, will find yourself unable to detach from the Austen manner of speech.  Verily, I cannot halt this formality of language!

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